Fresh off two new shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, the familiar ideological fault lines around gun control hardened. Democrats called for banning assault weapons and enforcing universal background checks while Republicans settled for an option which does not ban weapons but might keep them out of the hands of criminals in the form of Red Flag Laws.
The fiery denunciation of many Democrats to the President’s rhetoric was the one point bipartisan in nature. Democrats went so far as to call Trump racist while Republicans generally said the President’s language was not helpful or unifying.
Amidst this backdrop though, and the carnage of 22 dead in Texas and nine in Ohio, little meaningful movement on stopping the epidemic of violence is likely. Republicans have proposed ideas like dealing with mental health and cracking down on social media whereas Democrats want to ban assault weapons.
At the core of the issue is Republicans and conservatives do not believe the vast majority of gun-owners should be punished for the actions of a few. They prefer a system be set up to catch criminals before they act vs. a blatant taking away of a certain kind of firearm. On the other hand, Democrats reason since most massacres are committed by assault style weapons, banning their ownership, and potentially mitigating future atrocities is worth it.
On the surface the data would seem to easily back up the Democratic position. Nearly every poll on gun control since 2010 has shown 80 – 90 percent of the nation supports universal background checks. They also support other forms of gun control. At least in a poll. Digging deeper though support softens when you start asking whether certain weapons should be taken away. For example, a much softer 62 – 35 percent support a ban on assault weapons.
Additionally, ignoring the cultural is just fool-hardy. Writing in a piece for Politico, Austin Surat and Jonathon Obert, contend gun culture in America is not merely an issue about preventing violence while preserving the 2nd Amendment. It is also must include that guns unite as much as divide America. Take for example the idea of gun shows. Americans from different walks of life come to these expos to meet strangers, check out gear and possibly compete in competitions. Obviously, if 90 percent of people support background checks then some of these same people attend gun shows.
As Surat and Obert note, Pew Research did a study in 2017 which found the ” vast majority of Americans who own guns are not members of the NRA and that most favor some form of gun control.” It should be noted though many of these same voters don’t trust the government to protect them either. They also vote for both Democrats and Republicans as evidenced by Obama winning a majority of gun-owners in Wisconsin and Iowa in 2012.
Perhaps most importantly, if people do not trust the government or its institutions to protect them why would they solely entrust their protection to it? Republicans have played on this fear for years but they hardly have solely led to the loss of trust in the government. Pew even found that “67 percent of gun owners said protection is a major reason they own a gun; 38 percent cited hunting, 30 percent listed sport shooting, and 13 percent listed gun collecting as major reasons.”
Gun-owners inherently understand and get this dynamic. Talk to a gun-owner and their firearms are not a means to commit a crime but a social asset which binds them to others in their community and beyond. Combine this with the sense of the loss of place and identity for many (right or wrong) and firearms become something which does bind them something in an increasingly fragmented world.
Guns also bind people to their communities. Surveys have shown roughly half of gun-owners, if not more, say the majority or all of their friends own guns. For those who do not own guns, by contrast, only one-in-ten say all or most of their friends own guns.
Because many Democrats are from areas where large majorities do not own guns and do not know many who do this disconnect gets amplified. Republicans, for better or worse, get this social context. Banning assault weapons might be a reality in the near-term but mandatory gun buy-backs are not. First-off the Supreme Court would nix it, and second, many gun-owners who do favor restrictions would as well because it would bring every GOP talking point to life.
Until America can have a meaningful conversation about the societal aspect of guns and their meaning, nothing will be done. Leftist politicians will retreat to their white nationalism and toxic masculinity tropes while Republicans will retreat to the tired talking points of mental health and video games being at fault. Who knows, maybe somebody will finally admit it is all of the above. That would be honest!