The horror in Las Vegas has brought gun control back to the fore. But, as in the wake of the Pulse massacre, Americans are polarized about what to do. Progressives want stricter access to firearms. Conservatives, though, fight gun laws tooth-and-nail. Some even maintain open-carry laws would stop mass shootings and other gun violence.)
But where are most Americans?
FiveThirtyEight did a deep-dive on Pew Research polls on gun control. It turns out it’s almost the most polarizing issue in America today. The only question dividing Americans more is whether we should build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. (Ugh)
We’re less split on whether climate change is real or if health care is the government’s responsibility. And LGBT equality and reproductive rights? “The touchstones of abortion and same-sex marriage, while polarized, don’t come particularly close,” writes FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten.
A Pew Research Center poll from April found that 76% of Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) believed it was more vital to protect their Second Amendment rights than to control gun access. (That compares to just 22% of Democrats.) Whether someone owns a gun is one of the most accurate predictors of a person’s political party affiliation—more than gender or even sexual orientation.
The April 2017 Pew poll on whether it’s more important to control gun ownership or to protect Americans’ right to purchase a gun also reflects last year’s election divide nearly perfectly. Slightly more Americans overall favored gun control (51%) over protecting gun ownership rights (47%).
As time goes by, Americans are increasingly supportive of same-sex marriage: 37% were in 2007, compared to 64% in 2017. That’s because more Americans have been exposed to gay people—in the news, entertainment and daily lives. But as mass shootings become more common—and more horrific—we’re moving even further apart: In 2007, there was just a 27% gap between Democrats and Republicans who felt it was more important to protect gun ownership than it was to have tougher gun laws. Now its 54%.
That’s due, at least in part, to the Republican Party latching onto the Second Amendment as a core plank. Here’s a snippet from the 2016 GOP platform.
We uphold the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, a natural inalienable right that predates the Constitution and is secured by the Second Amendment. Lawful gun ownership enables Americans to exercise their God-given right of self- defense for the safety of their homes, their loved ones, and their communities.
We salute the Republican Congress for defending the right to keep and bear arms by preventing the President from installing a new liberal majority on the Supreme Court.
We oppose ill-conceived laws that would restrict magazine capacity or ban the sale of the most popular and common modern rifle. We also oppose any effort to deprive individuals of their right to keep and bear arms without due process of law.
In fact, growing acceptance for marriage equality has forced the GOP to scramble for other wedge issues—like guns. Only about half of Republicans favored gun rights over gun control in 2007. Now, its more that three-quarters.
As usual, the messaging from GOP politicians and their “friends” at the NRA misrepresents what the conversation is: Republican voters are told it’s a slippery slope from rational guidelines for firearms to complete disarmament. They’re told President Obama wants to barge into their homes and take all their guns.But when you look at their views on the actual subject, 77% of Republicans favor background checks at gun shows and private sales and 54% favored banning assault-style weapons.
They literally don’t agree with their own party.
Sure, it can feel hopeless. Despite mounting deaths, GOP politicians parrot the same rhetoric: “It’s too soon to talk about it,” “guns don’t kill people,” and so on. But things can—and do—change: In 2012, just 27% of Republicans favored same-sex marriage. Now Republicans are pretty evenly split, with 48% against and 47% in support.
We need to employ the same tactics the LGBT rights movement did to secure marriage equality and change the conversation about HIV/AIDS: Put a human face to the senseless violence caused by lax gun laws. Show America the mothers mourning their dead children, the politicians struck down by disturbed people with easy access to firearms.
Because until something substantially changes, the only way we can with this battle is with heart, not policy.