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Analysis: Why Republicans feel little political pressure for stricter gun control

But the response to those calls from many Republican lawmakers is the same now as it pretty much always is: The country should not have stricter gun control.

Why do these Republicans refuse to act? Beyond the fact that many believe stricter gun control would not prevent such mass shootings, a look at the data reveals that there is simply no political pressure to do so.

While there are certainly some Americans who want stricter gun control, the public at large is far more split on the issue than a lot of commonly cited polling data would have you believe.

Perhaps the best way to understand the public mindset on the gun control debate is to look at Gallup polling from earlier this year. The survey asked a simple question and a follow-up: Are you satisfied with the nation’s gun laws? And if you’re unsatisfied, do you want stricter or looser gun laws?

This year, only 36% of Americans said they were dissatisfied and wanted stricter gun control laws. Sixty-one percent were either satisfied (41%), dissatisfied but wanted less strict laws (13%) or dissatisfied and wanted no change (7%).

These numbers do shift somewhat from year to year, but the “dissatisfied and want stricter gun laws” opinion has never been a majority one this century.

The reason I like the question is because it gets at the intensity of feelings about the gun debate. Most people are generally fine with our country’s gun laws (to the degree that they are satisfied) or want them to be less strict.

Even if you simply ask Americans if they want stricter gun control (i.e. without asking about satisfaction first), the country seems mostly split. At the end of last year, 52% of Americans indicated they wanted stricter gun control, according to Gallup. Forty-six percent, within the margin of error, either thought laws should be kept the same (35%) or made less strict (11%), the same survey found.

Of course, these numbers can be hard to comprehend when polls also indicate that north of 80% of Americans want universal background checks for guns, which Democrats have been pushing for in Congress and which most Republicans refuse to go along with.
Here’s the thing: There’s no sign the polling on background checks holds up in elections. Consider the results of ballot measures in two states in 2016: Maine and Nevada voted within a point of the national presidential vote that year. The latter is quite ethnically diverse, while the former is overwhelmingly White.

A proposal to expand background checks passed by less than a point in Nevada and failed by a little less than 4 points in Maine.

Why would Republicans feel political pressure to support more gun control, when something that polls as well as universal background checks can’t surpass the Democratic presidential baseline in swing states?

Now, I’m not sure what exactly explains the discrepancy between the polling and election results.

Beto O'Rourke confronts Texas governor during update on Uvalde elementary school shooting

But the election results line up with what we see in other polling.

Indeed, most Republicans feel no pressure to act on gun control because voters are as likely to trust them on the issue of guns as they are to trust Democrats. A Pew Research Center poll from earlier this year showed that 38% of Americans agreed with Republicans on gun policy compared with 37% who agreed with Democrats, a finding within the margin of error and one that has been consistent in polling.
At the same time, polling from CNN/SSRS from earlier this year found that the enthusiasm on the gun issue was, if anywhere, on the Republicans’ side. Forty-five percent of voters who lean Republican said gun policy was extremely important to their 2022 congressional vote, while 40% of voters who lean Democratic said the same. Those who said gun policy was one of their top issues were more likely to have backed Donald Trump in 2020 than Joe Biden.

So will the events at Uvalde change any minds? It’s obviously too early to say.

But it’s worth noting that there was a polling jump in the percentage of Americans who wanted stricter gun laws following the aforementioned Columbine, Newtown and Parkland shootings.

If Democrats are going to get any Republicans to join them in the quest for tighter gun laws, it would need to happen now. If it doesn’t, history tells us that there likely won’t be another chance until there is sadly another mass shooting.

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