How to change the gun debate

Sam Smith – Woke up early this morning for my weekly slot on Mark Thompson’s Sirius XM show, Make It Plain, only to find myself in the midst of a heated debate in the wake of the Las Vegas killings. My argument that liberals should work with gun owners to come up with legislation that can pass was rejected both by Mark and his other guest, a strong gun control advocate.

On the other hand, a caller named Eric from Virginia, a gun owner, described the sort of gun regulation he would support and I told him I wished I lived in his state so we could work together on it.

The debate symbolized what I have long thought is the big gun safety problem: liberals don’t now how to work with gun owners despite their potential as allies for better gun laws. I didn’t cite all of these on the show, but here are some facts that support my view:

  • Mississippi has approximately the same rate of gun ownership as New Hampshire yet has five times as many murders per capita. The same is true of Louisiana and Maine: five times as many murders per capita in Louisiana despite roughly the same rate of gun ownership.  In other words, all gun owners are not the same. 
  • Huffington Post – According to Pew Research, 85 percent of people with guns in their home support universal background checks. Another more recent poll puts that number at 92 percent. A third poll found that 74 percent of NRA members supported mandatory background checks. That leaves somewhere between 8 percent and 26 percent of gun owners and/or NRA members who are opposed to universal background checks.Background checks are not the only policy that most gun-owners support. A majority of gun-owners also support outlawing the sale of semi-automatic weapons and online sales of ammunition. Again, the NRA and their gun industry benefactors vehemently oppose these reasonable gun safety measures.
  •  Washington Post Sixty-two percent of gun owners voted for Trump, according to data from the 2016 American National Election Studies. This was 4 percent better than Romney’s share of the gun owners’ vote in 2012 and 10 percent more than McCain’s in 2008.Let’s note, here, that over the past three presidential elections, a majority of gun owners have supported Republican candidates. But there was a time when gun owners weren’t so overwhelmingly Republican. In 1976, 50 percent of Republicans, 48 percent of independents, and 45 percent of Democrats owned a gun. That changed in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2000, 30 percent of independents and only 27 percent of Democrats reported having a gun in the home. That drop continued among Democrats; by 2016, only 23 percent owned guns.

    Meanwhile, Republican gun ownership has stayed fairly constant. In 2012, 54 percent of Republicans owned guns. That’s nearly the same figure reported in 1973.

In other words, the constituency for gun safety is far more varied than the media and others suggest. The trick is how to make it function politically and a good start would be for liberals to stop bashing gun owners and find what they have in common.

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