If you ask a gun grabber about the typical Second Amendment supporter, you’ll probably hear about a straight white male, probably middle age who lives in a trailer in the woods or some other redneck cliche. While some of those people do actually exist–believe me, I know them–the reality is that gun rights activists come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and from all walks of life.
Yes, including Millennials, apparently.
Polling in gun politics is notoriously murky—much lies in the crafting of the question—but demographers have consistently reported a conservative streak in millennial attitudes on guns. Respondents aged 18-29 are the least likely in the country to support a renewed ban on assault weapons, at 49 percent, a fact that has helped drive nationwide support down to a record low. Pew’s data suggest that those falling in the youngest age range have dropped the furthest in support for “gun control” since 2000 (when the alternative is presented as “gun rights”). And when the question concerns the National Rifle Association’s top legislative priority, concealed carry, millennials appear to lead the country. According to Gallup’s version of the question in 2004, the notion that concealed guns made for safer spaces polled at 25 percent; 11 years later, it registered at 55 percent nationally. The greatest support came from those ages 18-29, at 66 percent, a full 10 points greater than the next highest scoring demographic.
Does this make millennials more conservative on guns? Some think so. Observing the trends of his own poll, in 2014, Frank Newport, the director of Gallup, wrote, “At the same time that the country’s views of same-sex marriage and marijuana have undergone significant short-term changes,” America’s proliferating gun massacres “have not produced the change in attitudes toward guns that gun-control advocates have predicted.” Newport later told NBC News, “[I]t’s unlike a number of other attitudes, say, like gay marriage, where young people are much more liberal.” Writing this month in New York Magazine, Benjamin Hart agreed, suggesting that the gun data may seem like “a head-scratcher” given millennials’ liberal attitudes on gay marriage, legalization and other issues. “But guns aren’t like that,” Hart writes.
To be sure, this is a good thing, even if you disagree with millennials on many of their other positions. Gun rights are important, and it helps if we build a broad coalition between the typical gun rights advocate and the more socially libertarian millennials.
Especially because then we might have a chance of correcting the bizarre contradiction in their thinking.
It’s true that the young people in these surveys do support some efforts to loosen gun laws. But it turns out that their views are more complicated, even seemingly contradictory. The same poll that found millennials skeptical about an assault weapons ban? It also finds they lead the country in support for a mental health-related ban. They are the least likely demographic in America to own a gun, and they give the country’s lowest favorability ratings to the NRA, at 19 percent. And in the most striking case of ideological whipsaw, the same demographic of young people who reported unequaled openness to concealed carry, which the NRA has long dreamed of making a nationwide reality, also registered the highest levels of support for a national gun registry—the NRA’s most nightmarish hallucination. (Another 2015 poll bears out the same dichotomy.)
It would be easy to look at this and to simply blow them off. After all, if they’re so willing to give up their rights, why should any of us take them seriously? We don’t have anything in common. Not really.
Except that many millennials are merely products of their media environment. They grew up in the era of the modern mass shooting, and while they may intellectually be able to separate guns from killers, they still get the constant media bombardment of how the NRA is horrible, how all these rules will make us safer, and so on. They simply don’t get it.
By shunning them, however, we lose the opportunity to educate them. We create a world where there’s no respect for us as individuals, thus no reason for millennials to care what we have to say about the history of gun control. They won’t listen to us because they feel like we won’t listen to them.
In a real way, they’re the victims here. They’ve been subjected to the harsh anti-gun media blitz in a nearly constant stream their entire lives, and thus are products of that indoctrination. They’ve had years upon years of teachers filling their heads with anti-gun propaganda, and yet they still support concealed carry.
Will it change their minds? Who knows. Minds can change, though. Plenty do, but they won’t unless folks like us work to change them.