After the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas, the gun control debate is set to begin once again. The issue of gun control is often painted as one of the most divisive issues in America, and to an extent it is, but the issue is definitely more divisive in Washington than it is in the rest of the country.
One of the reasons that Congress keeps resisting expanding gun control is the fact that, while 51% of Americans support gun control, registered Republicans are more on the fence. When asked about gun control in general, only 18% of Republicans prioritize gun control over gun rights, with 25% of people who identify as conservative answering the same. Since members of Congress don’t get elected by the entire country, but rather by their constituents, those who turn out in midterm elections tend to be more right-wing Republicans, which can be seen in voters electing more Republican congressmen with very conservative ideologies. For example, Mark Meadows, who is the leader of the freedom caucus, opposes any restrictions to the second amendment or gun purchases. Although background checks are supported by their constituents, they know that gun control isn’t, therefore not prioritizing it.
It is important to separate the polls that ask whether gun control is more important than gun rights and those that ask more specific questions. Democratic and Republican voters often feel the same about smaller issues like background checks.
Politicians routinely go against what their constituents say they want when it comes to gun control. For example, Trump signed a bill on Feb. 28 that would remove background gun checks for people with a history of mental illness, despite the fact that even 75% of Trump supporters support background checks for private and gun show sales. Republican politicians know they won’t lose elections even if they vote against gun control, which their constituents want. That vote can be used to please donors.
Unfortunately, politics these days is heavily influenced by money and big lobby organizations such as the NRA. Many Republican congressmen have received tens of thousands of dollars from groups that advocate for so-called “gun rights.” Ted Cruz, for example, received $272,707 from gun rights groups during his presidential campaign. It has also been found that most of the 46 congressmen that voted against requiring background checks for all commercial gun sales in 2013 had received money from gun rights groups. In the same way that many (mostly Republicans) accepted money from gun rights groups, many Democrats received money from gun control groups.
Gun control has become a divisive issue in America even though a majority of the population supports increased background checks and banning people on federal watch-lists and no-fly lists from buying weapons. Republicans and Democrats all support these measures, but the hyper-partisanship in Washington has divided up the parties into one for gun control and one against. The only thing influencing politicians is the money that is spent by organizations on either side of the gun control debate. In the 2016 election, Clinton received $872,222 from gun control groups and only $25,369 from gun rights groups. Trump, on the other hand, received $617,889 from gun rights groups and just $1,408 from gun control groups.
Gun control is not as divisive of an issue as Washington makes it seem to be. On many issues, Americans are united in their wish to make the country a safer place. Congressmen shouldn’t allow the hyper-partisanship of Washington and toxicity of money in politics to decide how they vote. If they were to listen to the people that sent them to Washington to serve America, we might not have to see these horrible tragedies continue.
Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr