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Thursday
Mar012012

Is the "culture war" over for guns?

One of the students in my HLS criminal law class drew my (and his classmates') attention to this poll showing that a pretty solid majority (73%) of Americans now oppose banning handguns. What caused this? Did the Supreme Court's 2nd Amendment opinions (Heller and MacDonald) change norms? Or induce massive cognitive dissonance avoidance? Or maybe the NRA is behind the new consensus? Or maybe the public finally learned of the scientific consensus that there's no reliable evidence that concealed-carry laws have any impact on crime one way or the other? Is there a model here to follow for ending the culture war on climate change? Or maybe the climate change battle just made people forget this one?

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Reader Comments (5)

The drop in support for a ban over the last 22 years seems to track the drop in crime [PDF] very nicely. I'd be surprised if the drop in crime weren't a large part of the explanation.

March 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Bullock

JB-- that certainly seems to make sense!

Note, though, that opposition rose during 60s & 70s, as crime was increasing. I would have said that had a lot to do w/ white, southern, western conservative reaction (Nixon, Reagan) to civil rights movement & like-- that's a pretty standard view of when/how the gun debate took on the cultural complexion we are familiar with. See e.g. Stinchcombe, A.L., et al. Crime and punishment--changing attitudes in America, (Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 1980).

All the research my colleagues and I have done has been cross-sectional, although we do have data that show being a victim of violent crime or knowing someone who has been predicts opposition to gun control among hierarch individualists but not egalitarian communitarians

March 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Here's a roundabout explanation:

For a huge range of subjects, people do not actually have their own opinions. They haven't thought about them, they don't really much care about them. But if you ask, they'll feel the need to express an opinion. So, what opinion do they express?

Whatever they think other people, particularly in their own social circle, have as an opinion.

Over the relevant period of time, the NRA and other groups have been successful in motivating gun owners and those sympathetic to them to be single issue voters. Consequently, over a large portion of the country, openly supporting gun control has become political poison. Those politicians who do support it mostly stay quiet, or lie about it.

The result is that, more and more, the average person is not exposed to public expressions of hostility to gun ownership. Most of which did come from politicians, or as a consequence of politics.

So the apparent public opinion the average person who doesn't actually have an opinion on the subject is mimicking has become more positive about guns. The chameleons have changed their color to match.

But opinions have not really changed, for the most part. The vast population who didn't and don't have opinion on this subject are just feigning a different opinion.

This phenomenon is well recognized by PR firms and posters. (As though there were a hard divide between them!) It's understood that 3/4 of the battle in shifting public 'opinion' can be won simply by generating the illusion that it has changed. Silence your opposition, and people won't recognize who common they are. Amplify your own side's exposure, and people won't realize they're listening to the amplified cries of a small minority.

This is what happened with guns, same sex marriage, a lot of subjects. An illusion was created or dispelled, and the herd followed as a result.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrett Bellmore

Brett-- this seems basically right to me as an explanation of the abatement of significant cultural conflict over guns. Except I think the conflict hasn't really abated; the reaction to Trayvon Martin case is more meaningful evidence than this poll. Disagree
--dmk38

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

As is google's recent decision to censor all google shopping results related to firearms.

I never said the conflict has abated, only that those desiring gun control have found it politically necessary to lie about it, and that the resulting shortage of public advocacy of gun control has shifted the public's perception of what views are common.

Indeed, gun controllers are still active on several fronts, they're just a lot less honest about what they're doing.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrett Bellmore

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