Mark A. Smith is professor of Political Science and an adjunct professor of Comparative Religion and Communication at the University of Washington. His research focuses on economic and religious groups, ideas, and influences in American politics. In his new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, Dr. Smith argues that religion is not nearly the unchanging conservative influence in American politics that we have come to think it is and is best understood as responding to changing political and cultural values rather than shaping them.
Two years to the day after former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in a Tucson parking lot, Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, took to the pages of USA Today to denounce Congress for its inaction on gun control. Pointing to the influence of “special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe,” Giffords and Kelly announced the launch of a new program to “balance the influence of the gun lobby.”
This latest effort to curb gun violence comes on the heels of news that a White House team, led by Vice President Joe Biden, is considering a wider range of gun control measures than the renewal of an expired assault weapons ban. But even as gun control advocates ramp up their efforts to counter the influence of groups like the NRA, they will need to address Americans’ allegiance to the second amendment alongside their desire for stricter gun control laws, and better enforcement of current laws. They will also need to tackle Americans’ views of the NRA, which are supportive overall, with some important exceptions.
The data shows some good news for Giffords and Kelly: two-thirds (67%) of Americans favor stricter enforcement of current gun control laws, while a similar number (69%) oppose loosening existing gun control laws. A slim majority (52%) also favor the passage of stricter gun control legislation, although a solid minority (44%) are opposed. However, Americans also overwhelmingly believe (68%) that the constitutional right to own and carry a gun is as important as other constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Gun control is, unsurprisingly, a highly partisan issue. More than 7-in-10 (72%) Democrats favor passing stricter gun control laws, while nearly two-thirds of Republicans (65%) are opposed, while independents are nearly evenly divided. And although Giffords and Kelly reference their “two guns locked in a safe at home,” it also sets up a stark divide between gun owners, who overwhelmingly oppose stricter gun control laws, and non-gun owners, who favor them.
Earlier this fall, a majority (56%) of Americans reported that they had a favorable opinion of the NRA. Giffords and Kelly’s new campaign seems unlikely to do much to sway the 75% of gun owners who favor the influential gun lobby group, but it could galvanize non-gun owners, whose opinions were divided. Notably, while 40% of non-gun owners favored the NRA, and 43% were opposed, nearly 1-in-5 (17%) reported that they had no opinion or didn’t know. Perhaps these are some of the people Giffords and Kelly are seeking to mobilize.