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On gun policy, Republicans ignore Americans’ consensus views

As much as Americans disagree on seemingly everything, there’s a striking consensus on addressing gun violence. So why are Republicans ignoring the data?


The nation’s political divisions are one of the defining dynamics of our time. Reflecting on the results of the latest NBC News poll, Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research, who helped conduct the poll with a Republican counterpart, said last week, “The survey revealed a country on fire, seething with anger at our political leaders and too often at each other.”

But as much as Americans disagree on seemingly everything, there’s a striking public consensus on one of the nation’s biggest issues. Fox News reported last week on the results of its latest national poll.

After a series of mass shootings this spring, including the killing of several students at a private Christian school in Tennessee, voters would prefer focusing on specific gun control measures rather than arming citizens to reduce gun violence.

In a time when positions on provocative issues seem popular if they can garner a bare majority, it was tough not to notice the lopsided findings from the Fox survey:

  • 61% support a ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.
  • 77% support requiring a 30-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
  • 80% support allowing police to take guns from those considered a danger to themselves or others.
  • 80% support requiring mental health checks on gun buyers.
  • 81% support raising the legal age to buy a gun to 21.
  • 81% support improving enforcement of existing gun laws.
  • 87% support requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers.

There’s no reason to see such results as an outlier: All of this polling data is consistent with similar findings from other major surveys.

What’s more, in case this isn’t obvious, the findings from Fox’s poll reinforce the fact that there’s a meaningful degree of bipartisanship on the issue. A Washington Post analysis took a closer look at the data and found, “At least two-thirds of Republicans support universal criminal background checks, a minimum age of 21, a 30-day waiting period, red-flag laws and mental health checks on gun buyers.”

The idea that GOP voters wouldn’t tolerate any significant gun reforms is plainly wrong.

It’s GOP policymakers who are standing in the way.

On the surface, a casual observer might look at data like the results of the Fox poll and assume that Republicans are poised for a brutal electoral drubbing. On a life-or-death issue, GOP officials and candidates are deliberately rejecting some of the most popular ideas in the country. That seems unsustainable.

But those assumptions are dubious, despite the unambiguous polling results, because there’s one thing the survey data doesn’t tell us: prioritization.

To be sure, these possible gun reforms are amazingly popular with the American mainstream. But — and this is a critically important “but” — many of those same Americans will not base their next vote on the issue. On the contrary, they’ll gladly support candidates who disagree with them, because these voters have decided other issues are simply more important to them.

The have an interest in preventing gun violence, but it’s simply not at the top of their priority list.

Republicans know this. It's been evident for many years. In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, public demand for a bipartisan background check bill was overwhelming. GOP lawmakers didn’t care, and in 2013, a Republican filibuster derailed a good and popular bill.

In the 2014 election cycle, against a backdrop of a strong economy and low unemployment, voters rewarded Republicans anyway and put the GOP in control of Congress.

In 2015, then-President Barack Obama President urged voters who want to address gun violence to become “single-issue voters.” The Democrat said at the time, “Here’s what you need to do: You have to make sure that anybody that you are voting for is on the right side of this issue.” If politicians oppose gun safety measures, he continued, “even if they’re great on other stuff, you’ve got to vote against them.”

That still hasn’t happened.

The moral of the story should be obvious: Unless and until this issue starts dictating election results, GOP officials will continue to ignore polls like Fox’s, no matter how striking public sentiments appear.