Emblematic of Obama’s entire second term, really. After the Sandy Hook shootings in December 2012, he made gun control his top policy priority to start his second term. Public support for action spiked in the emotional aftermath of the murders; the White House, mindful of Rahm Emanuel’s advice to never let a crisis go to waste, demanded that Congress act quickly to address gun violence, knowing that public opinion would soon revert to the pre-Newtown status quo as that emotion faded. Republicans stood firm for Second Amendment rights, though, arguing — correctly — that nothing proposed by Democrats would reduce mass shootings, which, contrary to popular belief, haven’t become more common over time. (Gun violence more broadly has declined sharply over the past 20 years.) After the Toomey/Manchin bill failed in the Senate, Obama gave up and moved on to other priorities, with Democrats vowing that the GOP would pay a price for their opposition at the polls in 2014.
So here we are, a few days away from the 2014 midterms, and Republicans are poised to retake the Senate.
As you can see, support for stricter gun laws is still a bit higher today than it was in the first few years of Obama’s presidency — but a bit lower than it was during Bush’s presidency. I assume that’s because fencesitters on gun rights worried that the new Democratic president might turn out to be a gun-grabber and thus they reflexively tilted away from that position. Then, after Sandy Hook, they tilted dramatically the other way. And now, slowly but surely they’re tilting back again to the status quo circa 2008. Note too that support for making gun laws less strict is now the highest it’s been in 15 years, higher even than in the anxious days after 9/11. Long way to go before it’s competitive with the “more strict” and “keep as they are” factions, but the trend is what it is.
One more data set:
Every demographic shows a fall-off since Sandy Hook but the most interesting is women, who’ve gone from nearly 70 percent support for stricter gun laws to a modest majority. Why is that? The easy explanation is that a mass shooting of young children will bring out a “do something, anything” reaction in mothers in a way that a mass shooting of adults won’t, but fathers were horrified by Sandy Hook too and the spike in their support for new laws after that shooting was only half what women’s was.
As for public opposition to a total ban on handguns (except for the government), that’s steady as she goes. After Sandy Hook, it soared to a record high of 74 percent on fears that Democrats might be aggressive in their policy push. Today? 73 percent. That battle is lost for liberals for now and probably for decades to come, at least.