About that massive groundswell for gun control

  • 22 February 2018
  • NormanL
Don't buy the hype

In the wake of the Florida mass shooting, calls for a renewal of the federal ban on assault weapons have resurfaced. Supposedly, the demand for a ban, or some sort of congressional action on firearms, is stronger than ever, and the political will to make something happen has never been greater. 

Except neither assertion is really true. Regarding the assult weapons ban:

...the [Washington Post/ABC News] poll finds “50 percent in support and 46 percent opposed, a stark contrast from the 80 percent support for the ban in 1994, the year it was enacted. The current level of support is little different from 51 percent in 2016.”

For those who believe that there’d be widespread rejoicing if the federal government tried to ban the most popular rifle in America, these numbers should serve as a timely dose of cold water. They come, remember, in the immediate aftermath of a terrible attack. In 1994, 80 percent of Americans wanted to ban certain rifles absent any recent abominations. Today, after an unusual number of heinous events, only half do. Given that the right to bear arms is explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, these numbers simply won’t cut it. Consider, by way of comparison, that seven out of ten Americans think abortion should be illegal in the second trimester, and yet it remains legal almost everywhere.

But surely, the young, who have been so victimized by shooters, will suport strict gun control, right? Not so:

...over the last 20 years, even as mass shootings have become more frequent, they have not led to a sustained period in which adults, or young adults specifically, became more in favor of gun control.

Those who are now 18 to 34 years old entered adulthood after school shootings became a frequent occurrence (i.e. since Columbine in 1999) and they are not significantly more in favor of gun control than the average American.

CNN has asked Americans whether they are for or against stricter gun control nine times since the beginning of 2013, in the weeks following the elementary school shooting at Sandy Hook.

While any one survey result for a subsample that is as small as those under the age of 35 could be an outlier, the average of nine surveys tells us a lot. In the average survey, 50% of Americans said they were for stricter gun control. The same nine polls found on average that 49% of Americans under the age of 35 were for stricter gun control. In other words, the difference was statistically insignificant.

I also checked to see if more recent surveys during this five-year period suggested any sort of uptick in support for stricter gun control among younger adults. There wasn't. The last four surveys conducted by CNN discovered that 50% of those under 35 were for stricter gun control. That's identical to the 50% of all Americans who said they were for gun control in the same surveys.

There's no sign in the Pew Research Center's data either that younger adults are greatly more in favor of gun control than the average American. Pew asked respondents whether it's more important "protect the right of Americans to own guns, or to control gun ownership." During the eight times they asked it since 2013, 49% of adults said they thought it was more important to control gun ownership. In the same set of surveys, 52% of those under the age of 30 said it was more important to control ownership. Again, that's not a statistically significant difference.

That young adults aren't any more likely to be in favor of stricter gun laws than the average America is even more remarkable when you consider that young adults today are politically more liberal than young adults at the time of Columbine. In fact, mass shootings didn't make young adults more in favor of gun control than the average American. It may have had the opposite effect.

Should politicians review current gun laws to ensure they are enforced? Absolutely -- just as investigators must review why federal agencies failed to carry out their required functions to report critical information about potential threats to local authorities.

But on the broader topic of more gun control: don't buy the hype. The public, young and old, isn't interested in more gun control. If anything, they are more interested in protecting themselves...from both harm, and government bungling.