For as long as I have been involved in the gun rights movement (over 15 years now) I have wondered “Why do people support gun control?” I figured there were most likely two things working in combination for most people. 1) A disregard for the Bill of Rights and 2) A belief that gun control would decrease violent crime.
That was understandable to me. One can make case for lack of due process and torture of suspects if you believe they have knowledge of a nuclear bomb about to detonate in a major population center. Bill of Rights be damned! Do whatever is necessary to save millions of lives!
It may not work and some people might even say it’s not the right thing to do but I see a strong argument being possible. The Constitution is not a suicide pact argument is obviously defensible but it depends on the premise that the adherence to the constitution is tantamount to suicide in the given situation. I concluded that the anti-gun people either had data or believed data existed which demonstrated gun control made for a safer society and hence they were willing to ignore the constitutional issues. Gun control in the U.K. was frequently brought up as an example of the success of those policy decisions. As data from other countries was brought in and then crime in the U.K. increased faster as guns were even more tightly restricted it became blindingly clear no reasonable person could believe gun control made society safer.
But the I more argued with anti-gun people and in particular listened to and read the writings of their leaders I realized most of them knew gun control didn’t make society safer. This perplexed me a great deal and I asked Alan Gottlieb (founder of the Second Amendment Foundation) “What is the real reason they advocate more gun control?” Aside from the jokes it did seem to come down to a cultural issue as Gottlieb suggested. Although this raised other questions such as “Why don’t these people respect the cultural of other people and just leave us alone?” it was the best answer I could find.
As I had more and more interaction with the anti-gun people over the years it became more and more clear people stuck with their anti-gun beliefs no matter how much data they had. Some even flat out told me it just boiled down to them not wanting to be around people with guns so they supported using the force of government to rid them of their discomfort. Mike Arst has more insight into this having been on the anti-gun side of the political aisle for many years before seeing the error of his ways.
Yet we have people like Dennis A. Henigan from the Brady Center saying it’s not a culture issue (also here). For a while I wondered it was important to them. I think I understand now. As Mike Arst so eloquently explained in a different set of emails liberals are the enlightened, tolerant and know best what is for society. Cultural differences, in liberal circles, are to celebrated and embraced. Hence, if it is about a cultural difference then, as a liberal, they feel bound to respect different cultures. Since they are opposed to gun rights it cannot be a culture difference. But yet they do little more than try to prove their case via vigorous assertion. They don’t answer Just One Question and in fact publicly acknowledge that any causation between gun availability and crime is difficult to prove. And in their recent brief in McDonald v. City of Chicago they have stopped insisting the 2nd Amendment does not apply to individuals. They acknowledge the individual right to keep and bear arms yet they insist on restricting this right without giving justification beyond, “It has everything to do with public safety, public health and common sense.” Ignoring the contradictions between their claims of public safety and health with Henigan own admission that any public safety benefits are so small that they are difficult to prove we are left with “common sense” as their reason for insisting on restrictions on firearms and their owners. “Common sense?” To me “common sense” means having a reason for spending vast amounts of time and money fighting for the elimination of a specific, enumerated, constitutionally protected right.
It was with this background that I was thrilled to see a paper in the Journal of Criminal Justice with the title “Why do people support gun control?: Alternative explanations of support for handgun bans”. Wow! This is something I have to read.
Guess what they said? After all the review of previous studies, proposed hypothesizes, study methodology, and the multivariate statistics they arrive at this conclusion (page 503):
Support for gun control derives partly from a belief that gun control is an effective method for reducing violence, but this explanation has only limited power to account for positions on the issue. Many people favor control measures even though they think they will not reduce crime, while others oppose controls despite their beliefs that they will reduce crime. Further, support for gun control does not generally derive from personal experience with crime—robbery and burglary victims are no more likely than non-victims to favor banning handguns, and the experience of being an assault victim reduces support for this policy. The generally null results for victimization variables comport with past research that indicates that fear of crime and exposure to higher crime rates do not, on net, motivate support for gun control (Kleck, 1996). Thus, there is no sound foundation for expecting increased support for bans if gun crime goes up, nor for expecting declines in support if crime goes down. Consistent with this view, levels of support for gun control have remained generally stable in recent decades despite huge fluctuations in gun crime rates (Kleck, 1997, pp. 334-336; Smith, 2000).
Long-term stability in the phenomenon to be explained favors explanations that stress relatively stable causes. While crime rates fluctuate sharply over short periods of time, culture changes only gradually. Cultural cleavages among Americans remain fairly stable over periods of a decade or two; however, much the perceived need for crime-reducing strategies may change. Consequently, positions on gun control continue to be driven by the same cultural conflicts and antipathies that have divided the nation for decades. Those who have faith that police can protect them from criminals support gun control; conversely, those who believe that they cannot rely on the police put their faith in the gun, and oppose the stronger forms of gun control that might disarm them. Further, those who despise the “gun culture” as violent, racist, and backward support handgun bans, while those who reject such stereotypes oppose them. The stability of gun control views may also be due to the fact that most Americans already support moderate controls, so shifting opinion in a pro-control direction requires changing the views of a relatively small group.
These findings have a number of possible implications for the political struggle over gun control policy. First, they suggest that it is difficult to alter levels of support for gun control because support or opposition is partly grounded in relatively inflexible cultural traits. Changes in the level of popular support are more likely to result from relatively glacial, perhaps even intergenerational, cultural shifts. Second, even if solid evidence of the violence-reducing effectiveness of gun control were to be developed, and (perhaps less plausibly) large numbers of Americans were persuaded by the evidence, it is likely to have at best only modest effects on the level of support for these policies. Third, increases in crime are not likely to boost support for strict gun control, because the main effect of such increases is that they raise the number of crime victims who believe they must rely on their own resources for protection against criminals, a view that encourages gun ownership, and thereby reduces support for stricter forms of gun control.
I know I have said, “I guess we don’t need to understand them. We just need to defeat them.” but knowing the above does make a difference. People do support gun control because of cultural issues. They do support gun control even though they don’t believe it will reduce crime. There are people who despise the gun culture and view them as violent racist, and backward. And Henigan is wrong. This study proves it.
What this means to me is that coming out of the closet, taking non-shooting friends to the range, and showing that gun culture is for normal people and not their stereotype of red-necked, knuckle dragging Neanderthals is essential for the long term survival of the right to keep and bear arms. And in the short term we must make it legal for people to come out of the closet and take their rightful place in society. The terrible oppression of gun owners in places like Chicago and New Jersey has to stop and that is where the courts will have to play a role. Just like the forced desegregation of public facilities in the south we must invest the time, money, and effort to give these people the opportunity to take part in the freedom and respect as normal human beings. It is taken for granted by many gun owners but that respect is denied to millions in this country by the cultural elites who, in the words of Mike Arst who once belonged in their ranks, “… tended to think of ‘gun nuts’ as drooling, knuckle-dragging morons. Cavemen. Uneducated. Beer-drinking slobs who could barely read and who probably beat up their wives a lot. Maybe they were even all closet Nazis, eh?”