As with every such tragedy, the recent shooting in a Lafayette, Louisiana theater has brought yet another round of calls for increased gun control measures from liberal politicians. (And, sadly, a few Republicans as well.) Gun rights advocates have had to once again trudge out in front of the cameras and explain why this is precisely the wrong sort of thinking when dealing with the problems of madmen and violence. The job really shouldn’t be all that hard, particularly in light of yet another poll which shows that Americans increasingly seem to agree that a good guy with a gun will do more to handle a bad guy with a gun than any number of politicians with yet another gun grabbing bill. (The Washington Post)

It’s an echo of a familiar theme from NRA head Wayne LaPierre. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said frequently amid the more recent gun-control debate.

And most Americans agree with this logic, according to a 2014 Pew Research Poll. Since the 2012 Newtown, Conn., massacre of 26 people, including 20 school children, the poll found a nine-point rise in the number of Americans who think gun ownership could “protect people from becoming victims of crime.”

The post-Newtown shift was most significant among Republicans, whose support for gun ownership in the two years since the attack rose from 63 percent to 80 percent.

The poll also marked the first time in two decades of Pew surveys that more Americans supported gun rights rather than gun control (though public opinion had been shifting that way for years).

The Pew tracking numbers – which now go back for decades – are revealing, as this chart shows.


None of this will come as much of a surprise to those who have followed the debate, but the WaPo article did highlight a bit of news I’d missed in the past. Democrats largely love to talk about gun control laws to keep their base happy, but when it comes down to election time, they suddenly seem to lose interest in the subject. Some of them even find a new appreciation for gun rights as their constituents prepare to head to the polls. (From the National Bureau of Economic Research, emphasis added)

Why are U.S. congressmen reluctant to support gun control regulations, despite the fact that most Americans are in favor of them? We argue that re-election motives can lead politicians to take a pro-gun stance against the interests of an apathetic majority of the electorate, but in line with the interests of an intense minority. We develop a model of gun control choices in which incumbent politicians are both office and policy motivated, and voters differ in the direction and intensity of their preferences. We derive conditions under which politicians support gun control early in their terms, but oppose them when they approach re-election. We test the predictions of the model by analyzing votes on gun-related legislation in the U.S. Senate, in which one third of the members are up for re-election every two years. We find that senators are more likely to vote pro gun when they are close to facing re-election, a result which holds comparing both across and within legislators. Only Democratic senators “flip flop” on gun control, and only if the group of pro-gun voters in their constituency is of intermediate size.

Fascinating. And it shouldn’t be all that surprising that “only Democratic Senators” are flip flopping on this. But the NBER analysis relies on the discredited idea of some “silent majority” who want more gun control but are being “silenced” by a the “intense minority.” Citing this survey in the same article which highlights a majority of Americans being in favor of less gun control rather than more is a rather jarring discontinuity. But if you’re continuing to support a Democrat who votes against gun grabbing near election time but bashes Second Amendment rights for the rest of their term, you might want to look into a new candidate.