This blog remains firmly in the camp that is demanding this country and this city (Chicago) reform its gun laws. But it’s obvious we’ve got some work to do. The senate vote defeating Joe Manchin’s background check measure left a lot of liberals and progressives perplexed and infuriated. But, some good work by Nate Silver at 538 blog should help us unravel this mess.
I’ve long suspected the polling that suggests 80%-90% of the American public supports background checks was soft. But I couldn’t figure out how exactly. This is how it works – and this is reflected in my anecdotal conversations with friends on the topic as well. Even though the number, say 85% in favor of background checks is accurate, it is superseded by the fact that a significant portion of those 85% remain AGAINST gun regulation of any kind. So any poll that asks both questions: “Are you in favor of background checks?” and “Are you in favor of gun regulation” (with various wordings) would reflect much stronger support for checks than for regulation. But regulation comes first in the minds of many voters.
I know this because I’ve been talking about the subject with the subset of my friends who consider themselves 2nd amendment crusaders. Every conversation is different, but the overall pattern is that when I ask them their thoughts generally on the issue of gun reform, or on any particular legislation being discussed at national or local level they immediately respond strongly in the negative. They usually say something like, “There’s no reason the government should mess with MY right to own a gun”. That is the near-universal starting point of any discussion on the topic. It’s not until we’ve been talking for a few minutes and I ask a question like, “What’s the best reform proposal you’ve heard?” or “Are there any reforms you favor?” that I get a positive response on background checks.
Basically, this amounts to a massive asterisk that should be appended to the polling data on background checks. What this means is that 85% (or so) of the American public support background checks so long as nobody passes a bill for background checks. But, if it means new gun regulation law the number is significantly smaller.
So it’s not very surprising that the Senate vote broke down along the lines of gun ownership rates of the state represented. Nate’s 538 article includes a good set of stats, charts and some good ideas about how the gun reform issue can still favor Democrats in 2014. He also offers the explanation that the topic is a much hotter potato for house members than it is for the senate, and that torpedoing the senate bill may have served the purpose of protecting house members from a very difficult vote.
Jonathan Chait wrote a good piece examining the political calculations that led to the failure of the background check bill. And his write-up on how gun reform does fit into America’s founding principles is pretty good too.
We stand now pretty much back where we started. But, as this ad reminds us the costs of giving up are far to great to ever consider.