A new poll shows support for stricter gun laws has fallen significantly even after a spate of highly-publicized mass shootings.
That’s counterintuitive based on how Americans have traditionally reacted to mass shootings. In the past, support for stricter gun laws tends to rise in the wake of these tragedies, but the latest Pew Research poll shows a 7-point drop instead. Why is that?
Well, there are a couple of possibilities.
It could simply be the natural variance around what has been a pretty stable divide over what to do about guns in America. This is, of course, just a single poll, and we don’t get a ton of these kinds of polls. But what we do get tends to show support increase around mass shootings and then fall back again after a few months. The downturn of support in the immediate aftermath of multiple high-profile mass shootings in places like Georgia and Colorado, especially after a year-long pause in those kinds of attacks brought on by pandemic lockdowns, does run against that idea. But polling is an inexact science, after all.
The more intriguing possibility is the drop in gun-control support has to do with the massive increase in new gun owners we’ve seen over the past year. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade group, estimates there were 8.4 million first-time gun buyers in 2020. There is a tremendous potential for those new gun owners to significantly impact gun politics.
Polling has shown gun owners are less supportive of new restrictions on gun ownership. If that holds for those new gun owners, it could change how both parties approach the issue. During the 2020 election, there was some hope among Republicans that these new gun owners would have a sizeable impact in the race between Donald Trump (R.) and Joe Biden (D.) due to their stark contrast on gun policy but, if it did materialize, it wasn’t nearly enough to push Trump to victory. That’s likely because buying a gun for the first time in reaction to the general chaos caused by the pandemic, rioting, and prisoner releases of 2020 is not explicitly a political act. It’s unlikely many new gun owners immediately switched from a non-voter or party-line Democrat into a party-line Republican, especially with so many other issues dominating the race.
Political transformation is often a slow process that takes years. While it’s likely we will see these new gun owners impact gun politics in the future, and both parties will have to adjust, it isn’t likely to happen with the flip of a switch.
But we may now be seeing the beginning of that transition. According to Pew, sixty percent of Americans wanted stricter gun laws in September 2019. In April 2021, after more than 8.4 million Americans bought a gun for the first time, only 53 percent still held that position. The big question is, are those new gun owners the ones who drove that trend?