American opinion on gun control.

Americans are divided on the utility of stricter gun laws to stop shootings. In September 2015, 46 percent of Americans thought that stricter gun-laws were the best way to reduce the number of shootings, while 36 percent thought that the best way would be for more Americans to carry guns for their own protection, and 18 percent weren’t sure.[1] By late-October/early-November 2015, about one-third (35 percent) thought that tighter laws would reduce all forms of shootings, while another third (35 percent) thought that tighter laws would have no effect, and almost a third (30 percent) weren’t sure. On the subject of “mass shootings, however, Americans were clearer in their mind. Almost half (48 percent) thought that mass shootings can be stopped, while one-third (35 percent) think that these events are “just a fact of life in America today.” That means that only one-sixth (17 percent) weren’t sure.[2] However, that was before the San Bernardino shootings[3] and President Obama’s ill-received speech seeking to reassure Americans. By mid-December 2015, 71 percent of Americans believed that both mass shootings and terrorist attacks have become a permanent part of American life.[4]

That is, the share of Americans who believe that mass shootings are just a fact of life more than doubled and moved from a minority to a majority position in about a month. It’s easy to se why they think so. About twice a day for the last twenty years somebody gets killed in an act of workplace violence. More specifically, 14,770 people between 1992 and 2012. Mostly, they were shot.[5] Between 2007 and the end of 2015, 29 people legally entitled to carry a concealed weapon committed “mass shootings.”[6] In the wake of the shooting incident at the Planned Parenthood site in Colorado Springs, CO, people started doing the math for the umpteenth time. Using the expansive definition of “mass shootings” (at least four people including the gunman are killed or wounded), there were 351 mass shootings from 1 January to 30 November 2015.[7] However, this isn’t what most people mean by “mass shootings.” Most people mean “somebody goes postal.” The expansive definition includes criminals who shot up everyone inside of or in front of a row-house in Bal’mer.[8]

Similarly, in Fall 2015, almost half of Americans (46-48 percent) thought that stricter regulation of who could own a gun would reduce shootings by some uncertain amount, while just over a third (35-36 percent) thought that such restrictions wouldn’t be effective. The size of the uncertain group bounced around from 18 to 30 percent. However, the number of the uncertain rose as the issue was discussed in public. The increased size of the uncertain group came at the expense of the supporters of stricter gun laws.

In contrast, the numbers for those who favor carrying personal weapons for protection, who doubt the effectiveness of stricter gun control laws, and who believe mass shootings are just a fact of life are all the same at 35 percent. This matches up with the one-third of Americans who are estimated to own guns.

Gun control advocates are losing the debate. The more they talk, the more they lose. Is it time to re-think strategy and discourse?

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 19.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 6 November 2015, p. 21.

[3] So far as I can tell, the NYT never referred to the recent attack in Paris as a “mass shooting.”

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 25 December 2015, p. 21.

[5] “Noted,” The Week, 11 September 2015, p. 18.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 6 November 2015, p. 20.

[7] “Noted,” The Week, 11 December 2015, p. 16.

[8] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7DhFhzkjcA

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