The partisan divide on guns remains four years after Sandy Hook

In the four years since the outrage perpetrated against the students and faculty of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the debate between gun control advocates and the supporters of gun rights has changed hardly at all.  What movement has occurred, in fact, has been a solidification of the positions held by each side.  States whose laws protect gun rights have extended their exercise, while those that had strict controls have worked to tighten their regulations.  The recent ballot measure in California on guns illustrates thisOne interesting exception to this trend has been the State of Illinois, and that’s been due to court rulings that have pushed back against Chicago’s overwhelming influence on the state as a whole.

A new survey done by The Huffington Post and the market research company, YouGov, puts numbers to this divide, reminding us that on the subject of guns, there is much work to do, regardless of which perspective we take.  On a variety of topics related to guns in America, Democrats tend to support stricter laws and to believe that they would be effective in reducing violence, while independents have a more mixed response, and Republicans generally oppose more regulation and have doubts as to whether adding more controls would do any good.

I can hear the shouts that this is a summary of the obvious, but the results are interesting in their details.  For example, solid majorities in all groups believe that gun violence is a serious or somewhat serious problem in America, despite the fact that the rates of crimes of all types, homicides and others, committed with firearms are at their lowest levels in decades.  When asked about what can be done, fifty-five percent of Democrats who responded believed that mass shootings can be stopped, while forty-six percent of independents and Republicans shared that belief.  Seventy-one percent of Democrats supported stricter controls on the sales of handguns.  Again, that’s as expected, but so did thirty percent of Republicans in the survey.  Forty-four percent of Republicans wanted no change in such laws, and only twenty-three percent thought that those laws should be loosened.  Among independents, thirty-nine percent would like stricter laws, while thirty percent supported leaving the laws as they are.

One question that showed a sharp division was on whether tighter gun laws and enforcement or respecting the right of Americans to carry firearms for self-defense would be more effective at reducing shootings.  Sixty-six percent of Democrats said that stricter laws were the answer, while sixty-one percent of Republicans favored the carrying of guns.  Independents were closely divided with thirty-six percent supporting more controls and thirty-nine percent supporting allowing more armed citizens in public.

This year’s election has called the accuracy of polling into question, but the numbers presented sound right.  And to those of us who support gun rights, they show what we have to do in the future to protect their exercise.  One change that I’ve called for all along is that we have to separate gun rights from party identification.  Republicans scored big wins this year, but for gun owners, the fact that several million more Americans voted for Clinton than for Trump suggests that tying gun rights to one party is a losing proposition in the long run—especially when that party is in the minority and only manages to win thanks to the peculiarities of our electoral system.

We also have a lot of outreach to do.  Gun rights will not long be protected is significant percentages of voters continue to be unaware of the facts about guns and gun ownership or openly hostile to them.  I know from experience that taking someone shooting is a good way to win a new convert to the cause, and I’ve found that even in the battlefield of social media, there are people who will listen if given the chance.  It’s up to each one of us to bring more people to our side if we hope to preserve the exercise of gun rights in this country.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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