DANIEL VAUGHAN: The tide has turned to the right on gun rights

The America that entered the pandemic of 2020 is not the same country leaving it two years later. This point is apparent to some but not to others. Nowhere is this fact more accurate than where America stands on firearms. There has been a massive shift toward gun rights in a short amount of time.

There’s a seemingly unending list of events to shift attitudes. But a brief recap would include a global pandemic where governments instituted harsh lockdowns, shortages of everything from toilet paper to food, riots in cities nationwide, a dramatic increase in crime, and threats to fire people from jobs over mandates. Americans feel significantly less safe than they did two years ago.

That’s why we’ve seen a surge in gun ownership. And not just current gun owners but people new to firearms are entering the ranks.

The new gun owner.

A survey by NORC at the University of Chicago found that “18% of U.S. households purchased a gun since the start of the pandemic (March 2020–March 2022) … increasing the percentage of U.S. adults living in a household with a gun to 46%. Over this period, one in 20 adults in America (5%) purchased a gun for the first time.”

A critical number from that study is that “According to the FBI, an average of 13 million guns were sold legally in the U.S. each year between 2010 and 2019, increasing to about 20 million annual gun sales in both 2020 and 2021.”

That’s a dramatic surge in a short amount of time. And while recent numbers have shown a slowdown in purchases, trendlines are still above pre-pandemic highs.

The composition of those purchasing firearms is changing too. A study at Harvard noted a distinct uptick in women purchasing firearms. Further, “Matthew Miller, adjunct professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted that roughly 20% of background checks tied to gun purchases were for Black Americans, with another 20% attributable to Hispanic Americans.”

New people, old beliefs.

Returning to the NORC survey, they found that new gun owners had similar beliefs to old ones.

Despite demographic differences between first-time and pre-pandemic U.S. gun owners, NORC’s experts found that the two groups have similar views on gun-control policies. Both first-time and pre-pandemic U.S. gun owners support more permissive gun policies than non-gun owners. These included policies such as expanding concealed carry, shortening waiting periods before gun purchases, and allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools.

John Roman, one of the study authors, added, “First-time gun buyers’ attitudes toward gun control look remarkably similar to those of the pre-pandemic U.S. gun owner … Whether they bought a gun because of existing beliefs about gun control—or owning a gun changed their policy views—is unknown, but it is notable that the policy positions of new gun owners are so different from non-gun owners.”

One of Gallup’s oldest polling questions is support or opposition to a ban on handguns. That was also the central issue in the Supreme Court case Heller v. District of ColumbiaGallup’s poll shows support for a handgun ban at a historic low of 19% — while the opposition to handgun bans at an all-time high of 80%.

The tide has shifted in the gun rights debate in America. That shift is decisive and uniform. Americans support the right to own guns, and they’re increasingly against bans.

Democrats run from the issue.

Democratic politicians understand this reality, even if progressives in their base do not. Neither Chuck Schumer nor Nancy Pelosi is interested in pushing legislation targeting guns in Congress. Democrats ran for the exits and recess to avoid any hard votes.

Why? This is a loser issue for them. “While Republicans have been criticized for an unwillingness to take even small steps to restrict access to guns in response to a national plague of mass shootings, it’s not lost on Democrats that the last time they had an extended debate and votes on ambitious gun proposals in 2013, they lost nine seats and their Senate majority in the following election.”

Further, “Democrats also believe they lost the 2000 presidential race in part because of attacks on an assault weapons ban that was then in place but expired in 2004.”

While Democrats try to run from the issue and its politics, Mitch McConnell is bringing Republicans to the forefront. McConnell and Schumer understand the politics behind this issue and how things have shifted hard in Republicans’ favor.

Most of your liberal friends, especially the louder gun control supporters, are still approaching the topic like it was a decade ago. The number of gun owners continues to rise, new gun owners are joining the ranks, and Americans support the second amendment like never before.

The tide has shifted in this debate. Can we try to do more to fix the problem of mass shootings? Definitely. Gun control is not one of those options.