For more than two years, polling has shown a consistent trend: American voters overwhelmingly want increased, moderate, gun restrictions like expanded background checks. (This is true if you look at Gallup, at Pew, at Reuters/Ipsos, or CBS News.) And those surveys show 80 percent or more of Republicans want to increase background checks.
Yet Congress has gone the opposite direction. In 2013, following the Newtown shooting, the Manchin-Toomey proposal to require background checks for gun shows and private sales had the support of 55 senators, five short of the 60 it needed. Yesterday a similar proposal from Connecticut’s Chris Murphy received just 44 votes, largely due to the Republican takeover of the chamber.
Why the disconnect? The National Rifle Association has strongly argued that increased government restriction raises the threat from government itself. But there is more at play. Gun ownership itself has changed.
A smaller proportion of Americans own guns now than in the 1970s, from 49 percent then to 37 percent now, says Gallup. But those who do have firearms have many more than in the past, averaging eight weapons a piece. And in just the last 17 years, the main reason given for owning a gun has shifted from hunting (1999) to protection (now).
Then there is the fear factor. Specifically, a fear that government will block lawful Americans from gun ownership, which is why Republicans have opposed most gun purchase bans for those on the no-fly list. All of this creates another sort of political paradox: Republicans, generally known for being hawkish on terrorism, are erring on the side of more liberty and potentially less security.
While four gun control measures failed in the Senate on Monday, watch for a possible vote on a no-fly gun compromise from Maine Sen. Susan Collins this week.