Not sure why righties on social media are so incredulous about this result. (“It’s a Politico poll!” Well, a poll by the pollster whom Politico uses, yes.) Support for gun control always surges after a mass shooting and then gradually fades, at least on the right, as time passes.
Even if it didn’t fade this time, gun-control fans would run into their recurring problem of gun-rights activists within the GOP being better organized and better connected in Washington than gun-control proponents inside the party, and seemingly much more passionate about the issue. Would Republicans lose more votes from its base next fall if it banned assault weapons than it gained from center-righties who want to see action? Until recently, the answer has always seemed like an obvious “yes.”
But maybe it’s less obvious in 2019.
To show how you quickly opinion can change after a mass shooting, Quinnipiac polled this same question in May and found just 39 percent of Republicans in favor of banning assault weapons. In all likelihood, GOP support for new restrictions surged in the aftermath of El Paso and Dayton, with “soft supporters” shifting from mildly opposed to a ban to mildly in favor. (The Quinnipiac poll didn’t offer “somewhat support” or “somewhat oppose” as an option.) Lest you doubt how much influence gun-rights supporters have over the GOP leadership, though, note that this same poll has Republican support for universal background checks at 90 percent — 90 percent, among Republicans! — and it’s still highly doubtful that any new legislation on that point, even with Trump’s support, will pass.
In fact, if you look back to a similar Politico/Morning Consult poll taken after the Las Vegas massacre in 2017, you’ll find Republican support for banning assault weapons at the time was … 65 percent, 10 points higher than today. Even after the double horror of El Paso and Dayton, GOPers are less likely now to back a ban than they were two years ago, when Republicans had total control of government.
As for why the GOP might not be as quick to dismiss legislation this time, though, the answer lies in two words: The suburbs.
The 2018 election reflected a changing landscape on guns. Republicans were swept out of the House majority after losing suburban bastions where they were once dominant — in places like Orange County, California, and around Dallas and Houston in Texas. Voters in 2018 favored stricter gun control by a margin of 22 percentage points, and those who did backed Democrats by a margin of 76% to 22%, according to exit polls. Gun policy ranked as the No. 4 concern, and voters who cited it as their top issue voted for Democrats by a margin of 70% to 29%…
A Marist poll last month, commissioned by NPR and PBS, found that 57% of American adults support banning “the sale of semi-automatic assault guns such as the AK-47 or the AR-15,” while 41% oppose it. Support for such bans was 62% among suburbanites, 74% among women in the suburbs and small cities, and 65% among white college graduates…
Earlier this year, eight House Republicans from suburban or competitive districts voted with Democrats to pass a bill that would impose background checks on buyers for gun sales considered private, which are not currently required by federal law.
Republican leaders have gotten an earful about the suburbs lately from political analysts watching electoral trends in Texas, spurred by the retirements of four Texas Republican members of the House in the span of a few weeks. RCP’s elections guru, Sean Trende, has a short must-read on that out just this morning, in fact. The bottom line: Texas isn’t a rural state, it’s an urban/suburban one. So long as the suburbs remained ruby red, the GOP could afford to let cities there go blue. But the suburbs weren’t ruby red last year in the Cruz/O’Rourke Senate race; they were purple, which was why Cruz came within a few inches of being upset. If Trump is alienating suburban voters *and* adamant opposition to gun regulations in Congress is alienating them, that’s … a lot of alienation. There’s a gender component to the issue too: Morning Consult notes that Republican women were far more likely than Republican men to support banning assault weapons in its new poll, with 64 percent in favor. How many right-leaning women who aren’t crazy about Trump to begin with will find a tipping point to go blue in the issue of gun control — especially if, God forbid, there’s a mass shooting close to the election that places this issue front and center?
In lieu of an exit question, read righty Megan McArdle on how the current moment may resemble the mid-90s push to crack down on crime, which has ironically become a major liability for Joe Biden among progressives. Plenty of Democrats, including minorities, supported the crime bill at the time, she notes, because they were exasperated by the party’s lack of answers as America’s crime rate skyrocketed over the preceding decades. The right may be facing its own moment of reckoning in that regard with mass shootings and absolute opposition to new gun regulations, leading to a similar sort of regulatory overcorrection once Democrats seize power. Trump could try to dodge the coming backlash now by pushing more modest legislation, but since his instinct is always to side with his base, he’s unlikely to do so even if he’s convinced that swing voters would like it. Exit quotation: “[I]f the right is interested in keeping its guns, it needs to get even more interested in finding an alternative policy that will actually work for the country to keep men with guns from doing terrible things.” Muttering about video games won’t hack it.