Many words have been written this week about why Barack Obama’s gun-control push failed, but this Washington Post/ABC poll may hold the real key to the puzzle. A majority of Americans see guns as a way to make homes safer rather than more dangerous, a big change over the last 13 years:
Lost amid the debate is the fact that for the first time a majority of Americans say having a gun in the household makes it a safer place to be, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. By a wide 51 to 29 percent margin, more people say a gun in the house makes it safer rather than more dangerous.
That’s a near complete reversal from a Gallup poll in 2000, when the public split 35 to 51 percent on whether guns make the home safer or more dangerous.
People with guns in their homes lead the way in touting the safety benefits: 75 percent say they make the house safer, compared with just 30 percent of those with no gun at home who say the same.
And not surprisingly, those beliefs have a big impact on gun-rights and gun-control views:
Those who think guns make the home safer prioritize gun rights over new gun laws by 2 to 1. But for those who think guns make the home more dangerous overwhelmingly prioritize new laws to limit gun violence over protecting gun rights, by 82 to 12 percent.
Take a look at the graphic from the Post at the link to see how the demographics plays. Those with majorities claiming guns make homes more safe include:
- independents (54%)
- households with $50-100K and $100K+ income
- education levels from “high school or less” (52%), college graduates (52%), and some college (59%)
- white men (65%) and white women (51%), although oddly no other ethnic/gender data is presented
- South (61%) and Midwest (52%)
Even the next tier appears to show pluralities or virtual ties among moderates (47%), households earning less than $50K (46%), and the West (46%). Now take a look at the few demographics with significant gaps favoring “more dangerous::
- Northeast (38%)
- Democrats (34%)
- Post-grads (33%)
- Liberals (32%)
It’s practically a stereotype. Basically, it’s the retiring professor played by the always-terrific Richard Jenkins from the film Liberal Arts (which is actually a very good film, by the way).
In order to convince people that (a) guns make them more dangerous, and (b) the intent wasn’t to take away guns that people feel make them safer, a certain level of finesse and empathy would be required. Was that what the gun-control crowd employed on this latest fiasco? Hardly. From the President down to the grassroots and especially in the media, gun-rights defenders were vilified, mocked, and demonized, all while the gun-control crowd pushed an agenda that had little to do with the shooting and the victims they repeatedly invoked. This wasn’t a sales job — it was a lecture, a months-long shout in the face of people who don’t think it’s the guns that commit the crimes.
Nick Gillespie argues that what really took place was that reality triumphed over hysteria:
1. Criminals – including mass shooters – don’t buy their guns legally.As Jacob Sullum recently pointed out, surveys of inmates found that they overwhelmingly get their guns either illegally or by other means that won’t be affected by any new laws:
Three sources accounted for almost nine out of 10 crime guns: “friends or family” (40 percent), “the street” (38 percent), and theft (10 percent). It is hard to see how any notional background check requirement, even one applying to all private transfers, can reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on these sources. As usual with gun control, the attempt to enforce such a requirement would impose costs and uncertain legal risks on law-abiding gun owners while leaving criminals free to go about their business.
For all the anxiety caused by so-called gun-show loophole, through which private sales at gun shows are not necessarily subject to background checks, just 2 percent of inmates said they got their guns that way.
2. The last assault weapons ban had no clear effect on gun-related violence. A 2004 study for the National Institute of Justice at the Dept. of Justice concluded that the assault weapons ban, which also regulated “large-capacity magazines” (LCMs), that lasted from 1994-2003 did not have an easily observed impact on gun crime. Gun-violence rates did decline over that period, but the researchers wrote, “we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence.” That’s because such weapons were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban. As important, the authors wrote that were an assault weapons ban reinstated, “the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.”
3. Gun-related violence and overall violent crime is declining.Tragedies such as the Newtown shooting last December provoke a strong emotional reaction. That’s understandable and we need to pay attention to the fears, anxieties, and pain such horrific events cause. But it’s also imperative that we don’t legislate out of panic of raw emotions – that sort of thing leads to, say, the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II and the passage of The Patriot Act.
Well, what about expanded background checks? Megan McArdle argues that Obama probably could have gotten those, perhaps with NRA support or at least tolerance, had he and his allies refrained from poisoning the pond so thoroughly, convincing gun owners that seizure was the real end game:
Imagine our car dealer posted a price of $40,000 on the car. Would that get him closer to the full $18,000 he’d ideally like to collect from you? Hardly. You’d take one look at that absurd pricetag, decide he was an idiot, and take your business elsewhere. Similarly, if you kept insisting that you only wanted to pay $2,000 for the car, the salesman would probably quickly decide that you weren’t serious, so it wasn’t worth wasting his time on a negotiation.
Arguably, that’s what happened to gun control. By spending time on an assault weapons ban, gun controllers hurt themselves in multiple ways. They energized the NRA’s base, who could probably have been persuaded to live with background checks. They wasted time, which had a huge cost: gun owners care about gun rights all the time, but the rest of the population mostly cares about gun control in the wake of a high-profile tragedy. And they made themselves look less like serious negotiators who were willing to come to a compromise that the other side could accept, and more like they were trying to reinstate the kind of gun laws that NRA members had spent two decades beating back.
In other words, by demanding more, they got less.
Asking for the moon in the hopes that you will get the stars is a good strategy only when you’re actually okay with getting nothing at all. To throw in a bit more negotiating jargon, it matters a lot whether you think your BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement) is better than whatever minimum concession the other side is demanding. …
In the negotiation over gun control, the alternative to an agreement was something that gun rights activists liked–no new gun laws–and gun controllers didn’t. That meant the administration started with a weak hand, and moreover, that everyone knew they were starting with a weak hand. They needed to be superbly tactical: move fast, propose a modest agreement that got the public on their side without fanning too much of a frenzy among the NRA’s membership, and get it done. Instead they squandered their post-Newtown momentum on an unwinnable negotiating position, and lost everything.
Actually, I don’t think that the White House had any clue as to the weakness of their hand. This is an administration that has a lot more in common with the professor in Liberal Arts, and a worldview constricted to Academia and the outer markers of OFA.