BERNARD COLUMN: Guns: American attitudes and votes

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, November 16, 2021

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By Jack Bernard
Bernard is a retired  corporate executive

Gun sales have been rising dramatically since the Covid-19 disaster. There were nearly 10 million background checks in 2020 versus less than 6 million in 2019.

I own guns but view myself as a moderate on gun rights. I uphold the privilege of law-abiding citizens having guns in their homes. But I want comprehensive background checks. We must ensure that the crazies and felons aren’t toting AR-15s that they bought at an unregulated gun show into our schools and churches. 

Occasionally, I will look at polls to see if I am really where the majority of Americans are when it comes to this controversial topic. You might want to read on and do the same (note: the percent of Americans wanting additional regulation always rises after high visibility mass shootings, so it is down now).

Pew Research, a respected survey group, just came out with a new poll. It once again shows the major divisions in American society when it comes to firearms.

A majority (54%) of Republicans either own a gun or live with someone who does. The figure is only 31% for Democrats.

Surprisingly, almost as many women (38%) as men (43%) are gun owners. But there’s a major difference by education, with 45% of those with some college having guns, as opposed to only 33% of those with post graduate degrees.

Geography also has a lot to do with who owns guns. Almost half (47%) of Southerners own guns as well as 53% of rural residents. But only 28% of Northeasterners and 29% of urban dwellers.

It should surprise no one that personal protection is listed as the primary reason for owning a gun (63%). You might think that with all that gun ownership, people would not be very worried about gun violence. But you would be wrong. 

The survey shows that 72% of Americans view it as a very big or moderately big problem.

Only 6% say it is not a problem. The numbers viewing it as a major or moderately big problem are even higher if we look at the black (93%) and Hispanic (81%) communities, or urban dwellers (86%).

But the most telling figure is the division between political parties. Only about a fourth (26%) of Democrats believe gun violence is either not a problem or a small problem versus over half (53%) of GOP voters. Only 20% of Republicans want stricter gun laws, while 81% of Democrats do. Obviously, this difference of opinion is a key factor in preventing the enactment of legislation to control gun violence.

There are only two areas of bi-partisan consensus — a. keeping guns away from the mentally infirm (90%-D; 85%-R); b. requiring background checks for gun shows and private sales (92%-D; 70%-R). The vast majority of Democrats (86%-83%) also want better data; high-capacity magazines restrictions; and banning of military type assault weapons.

But Republicans are opposed (only 43%- 37% support these measures). On the other hand, GOP voters (72%-53%) want fewer concealed gun restrictions, more teachers carrying guns, and shorter background waiting periods (currently three days). Democrats oppose these items (only 20%-24% support).

When we look at the political fragmentation in light of gerrymandering by state legislatures and other non-democratic aspects of American government (i.e., the composition of the Senate and the Electoral College), it is not surprising that we do not have more national and state gun control laws. For example, Democrats tend to have majorities in larger states and Republicans in smaller ones, but each state gets the same number of senators. And 60% is required in the Senate to pass gun control laws.

The bottom line is that either, a. Republican voters need to be swayed to approve of additional gun control or b. laws/constitutional amendments must be passed to correct these problems with our democracy. Neither course of action will be easily or quickly accomplished.