The Gun Control Conundrum

The death of the assault weapons ban (which has only been delayed by Harry Reid’s change of heart) provides a stark illustration of two basic principles of American politics. “An interested and active minority will always defeat an apathetic and/or inactive majority.” A closely related principle is that voters’ willingness to hold politicians accountable on a particular issue depends on the “proximity” of the issue to their lives and interests.

The spate of high profile instances of gun violence, like the shooting at Sandy Hook School, impact the general public’s level of apathy, but since the vast majority of Americans still do not believe they or theirs are in any realistic danger, they do not convert nearly enough voters from passive supporters of gun control into active supporters of gun control willing to base their vote on this issue.

Republicans in Congress (and some Democrats) are still politically vulnerable enough on gun control to expect serious gains on this issue at the national level anytime soon. They can realistically expect to be challenged from the right if they break ranks on guns, and they cannot realistically expect to be insulated from such challenges by voters in the center or on the left.

The issue of gay marriage provides a useful example of what would be necessary to advance serious gun control policies in Congress. The public’s opinion of gay marriage and gay rights moved decisively left in recent years, not simply because the arguments against it are weak. More and more Americans have come to the realization that they have gay friends and relatives who provide living and breathing testimony to the folly of anti-gay marriage arguments. Like Senator Portman, more and more people are being touched by this issue in their own lives. Discrimination against gays and lesbians is not an abstraction to a rapidly increasing proportion of the American electorate.

Unfortunately, this means that gun violence will probably have to get MUCH worse before it is likely to be seriously addressed by Congress.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
This entry was posted in Academic Life, U.S. Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Gun Control Conundrum

  1. Nancy Frank says:

    You say “The death of the assault weapons ban.” Last night Sen Reid said

    I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes.— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) March 21, 2013

    Can you explain?

    • I wrote the post prior to this change of heart. Unfortunately, the result of the vote remains a foregone conclusion.

      • Nancy Frank says:

        The way I understood it, the first strategy Reid announced was that each gun-related bill voted out of Senate Judiciary was going to the floor a la carte.

        Next, he decided to bundle gun trafficking and background checks but not Assault Weapons Ban or high-capacity mags. His plan was to have Feinstein raise AWB+HCM as an amendment. It was wrongly reported that he dropped plans to give it a vote. Last night he reaffirmed his intention to give it a vote.

        I got my information from Lawrence O’Donnell, Video: O’Donnell: Assault weapons ban not dead buff.ly/ZhADW9

  2. BP Myers says:

    “. . . the vast majority of Americans still do not believe they or theirs are in any realistic danger”

    Think there might be some cognitive dissonance going on. I mean, is there anyone left who doesn’t know someone personally, who has been shot? I know I do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>