Could gun control be the new gay marriage?
The public's views on gay marriage have moved decidedly to the left, spurred by demographic and generational changes in the electorate. But that same electorate has shifted to the right on gun control. Why the politics of the two issues are different, for now.
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By 2012, however, it was a completely different story: In July, Pew found just 41 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage, while a plurality of 48 percent favored it. Some of that shift was driven by generational changes, since young people tend to be more broadly in favor of gay marriage (though support has gone up among all age groups). The bigger change, though, was demographic: The electorate has become more Democratic, more urban, more educated, less religious, and less white – and the politics surrounding many cultural issues like gay marriage have shifted accordingly.Skip to next paragraph
Liz Marlantes covers politics for the Monitor and is a regular contributor to the Monitor's political blog, DC Decoder.
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So might those same demographic changes portend a similar shift to the left in public opinion on guns?
Well, in recent years, as previously noted, the trend has been in the opposite direction – with support for gun rights growing. In the wake of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, Pew found that 65 percent of Americans said it was more important to control guns, while just 30 percent said it was more important to protect gun rights. By contrast, in the wake of last summer's movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., just 47 percent said controlling guns should be the priority, compared with 46 percent preferring to protect gun rights.
That shifted somewhat in the wake of Newtown. In a survey released this week, Pew found 51 percent saying it was more important to control gun ownership, while 45 percent were on the side of protecting gun rights. That puts support for gun control at its highest point in President Obama's tenure, yet still well below the levels of support found during the Clinton years.
But it's also worth noting that the rise in opposition to gun control has come about almost entirely because of a shift among Republicans, who have become much more strongly in favor of gun rights in recent years, while views among Democrats have remained relatively stable.
And in many cases, those who currently say they favor protecting gun rights actually do support certain gun-control measures, such as universal background checks (favored by 85 percent overall) and preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns (80 percent support). Even more notable, 58 percent of Americans say they would favor a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
Bottom line: It's too soon to tell where all this is heading. But while the overall trajectory of public opinion on gun control has not resembled the trajectory on gay marriage in recent years, it's also not crazy to think that it might start to, soon.