A pro-gun protester
A pro-gun protester outside the Virginia state house on January 13th, 2020 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: What’s Driving Americans Away from Gun Control? [Member Exclusive]

Over the past week, we have seen new data that validates a continued theme: Americans are turning against gun control.

The latest Gallup polling shows support for stricter gun control at a seven-year low, fueled largely by a 15-point cratering among Independents. Plus, a recent Morning Consult poll shows registered voters trust Republicans over Democrats on the issue of gun policy by seven points. Furthermore, Republicans’ advantage on gun policy increased to ten points when just suburban voters were polled.

Public opinion on gun control is historically volatile. Americans’ support for stricter gun laws has typically risen after high-profile mass shootings and fallen during periods without such events. But, a few recent major events have actually caused Americans to sour on the prospect of new gun control.

One obvious factor is simply the fact that record numbers of Americans have become gun owners in the last two years. We know from polling data that gun owners are far less likely than non-gun owners to favor gun control, and that likely explains why a significant drop in support for gun control has coincided with record numbers of first-time gun buying.

However, an underappreciated element is not just the fact there are new gun owners but that millions of them were forced to experience gun laws in practice for the first time. It’s a distinction with an important difference.

For many among the uninitiated, their conception of gun laws is formed by the media they consume. When prominent figures go unchallenged publicly saying things like “it’s easier to buy a gun than a beer,” or “in a majority of states, new voters are able to obtain a rifle quicker than they’re able to cast their first ballot,” it’s easy to see why many are left with a distorted sense of just how many gun control laws are already on the books.

Confronted with this reality when they took the steps to get a gun, some probably concluded that further restrictions were unnecessary.

Indeed, there was some evidence of this early on in the pandemic when prospective gun buyers saw the utility of armed self-defense for the first time but found themselves delayed by existing regulations they were unaware of.

“In the past, I wasn’t against owning a gun,” Brian, a first-time gun buyer from Florida, told the Washington Free Beacon last May. “However, I did think that we had suffered enough as a country from school shootings, and something needed to be done. I was for stricter gun laws—no ARs, close the gun-show loophole, better mental health regulations, etc. I would now oppose stricter gun laws.”

Another driver of this trend is crime. In 2020, the same year that a record number of Americans became first-time gun owners, the country also experienced a record single-year increase in murder and an increase in other types of violent crime. And preliminary data from 2021 shows that murder continues to increase, albeit at a slower rate than the previous year.

According to the latest polling from Gallup, a record-high 88 percent of gun owners now cite protection from crime as the number one reason for owning a gun, up from 67 percent in the mid-2000s. And while previous years’ survey data showed periods of high crime coinciding with high levels of support for gun control, that no longer appears to be the case.

In 1990, for example, when the nation’s crime rate was near its peak, a record 78 percent of Americans supported stricter laws for gun sales. Now, even with concerns over crime on their radar, Americans seem to have more of an appetite for guns than gun control.

It’s difficult to say how long this trend will continue if it does at all. It could very well be a thermostatic response to a Democrat-controlled White House and Congress, and we could see a reversal in the trend the next time Republicans take power. But the fact that it’s a trend occurring on the heels of record gun sales to first-time buyers, absent any major push for new federal legislation, suggests that it could have some staying power. For the time being, at least, many Americans have lost their desire for new gun control.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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