|Overall public support for gun control policies has slightly fallen since 2017, driven mainly by GOP. The share of Republicans who believe gun violence is a “very big” problem has plunged to just 18%; among Democrats, it’s 73%, though this share has fallen a bit as well. (Pew Research Center)|
NH: Since the pandemic began, contention over gun control has been largely absent from the public discourse.
But recently, the debate is re-emerging amid rising gun violence and rising gun sales.
Last Friday, a federal judge in San Diego struck down California’s ban on assault weapons. And in April, Biden announced a slew of executive actions curbing the sale of ghost guns and regulating pistol-stabilizing braces.
But what is the public appetite for new gun control measures? Pew just released a new survey on this question.
Currently, 53% of all Americans believe gun laws should be stricter. But these shares differ greatly by party. Among Democrats, it's 81%. Among Republicans, it's 20%.
If you look at specific gun control policies, overall public support has decreased over the last few years. In 2017, 68% of Americans supported a ban on assault weapons. In 2021, only 63% support such a ban. The same pattern holds for a federal database to track gun sales. From 2021 to 2017, support fell by -5 percentage points.
The fall in support is mainly coming from Republicans. Of the four gun control policies Pew asked about, GOP support fell sharply for each proposal from 2017 to 2021. But even among Democrats, support has slightly decreased for every suggested reform since at least 2019.
So why is Republican support falling so sharply? In 2017, the GOP controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress. Many Republicans actually favored some sort of gun control legislation and were willing to consider it so long as the GOP would be calling the shots.
But now, with Democrats in charge, the GOP is stonewalling. Many Republican legislators don't want to support any new law that the Democrats will take credit for. And perhaps, more importantly, many Republican voters won't trust any reform drafted by the other party.
There may also be another driver at work.
Support from voters in both parties may be falling due to a highly publicized rise in violent crime. (See "Homicides Spiked in 2021.") Rising crime rates often give rise, with a lag, to increasing public support for tougher measures against lawlessness across the board. (See "The Politics of Falling Crime.")
And rightly or wrongly, most Americans--Democrats as well as Republicans--associate gun control in practice with a lenient-on-crime attitude. Many Americans feel safer when they have a gun for self-defense.
A good bellwether is the new salience of violent crime as an issue in the Democratic primary for NYC mayor.
Number one and number three in the polls, Eric Adams and Andrew Yang, have lately been supporting conspicuously "tough" anti-crime policies, including bringing back stop and frisk.
Do they support federal gun-control legislation? As progressive New York Democrats, they undoubtedly do. But once voters begin to think more about violence on the streets, they probably become less enthusiastic about any measure that may make it harder for them to defend themselves.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.