Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

Americans want gun control, but not badly enough | Harry J Enten

Gun rights advocates know that, despite Newtown, the US public is only lukewarm about gun laws – and is cooling all the time

After a month of reported congressional movement on gun control, negotiations have apparently hit a snag. Democratic senators have decided to break up proposals into different packages – such as Senator Dianne Feinstein’s push for an assault weapons ban – instead of presenting one “Obama gun package”. And, unsurprisingly, Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to agree on what parts should make up a background check bill.

On the surface, this seems like Washington dysfunction at its worst, especially since the percentage of Americans who want tougher gun control has stayed at its post-Newtown high: a majority still wants a ban on assault weapons, although legislation on that has pretty nearly no chance of passing through Congress. Over 80% of Americans do agree on universal background checks, including a majority of Republicans.

But a deeper look at the numbers suggests that gun rights advocates may be playing a stronger hand than at first glance.

1. Most Americans don’t see gun control as the most significant way to prevent mass shootings

Per a Public Religion Research Institute poll, only 25% of Americans believe that stricter gun control laws and enforcement would be the key to preventing massacres. That was second to mental health screenings, at 30%, and just ahead of moral and religious teaching, at 20%.

Even when we expand the issue out to allow for multiple answers, as CBS News did, only 21% think that stricter gun control would prevent gun violence by much. Almost half, 46%, think mental health screening would help a lot, while 36% think armed guards in public places would be most useful.

2. Guns as a whole are not at the forefront of issues for most Americans

Only 4% of Americans listed guns as the most important problem facing the country in the latest CBS News poll. Instead, over 50% chose the economy, jobs or the budget deficit. That matches other recent polling, and the recent focus on the sequestration illustrates this data.

You might say, “Of course, the economy is the No 1 issue for Americans – how could gun control come close?” And I’d agree: if gun control were really at the top of the heap, I’d expect it to be polling higher. During the healthcare debate of 2009-10, for instance, healthcare regularly broke the 20% barrier in polls on the most important issue in the US.

Now, it’s possible for Americans to care about more than one issue at once, but it’s fairly clear that gun control can get lost in our current mess of unemployment, budget cuts, and a stalling legislature. But gun control tends to be tied with healthcare and immigration as the most important issue, at all of 5%. Right now, healthcare isn’t even a national issue so much as a state one, in parts of the country.

3. Most Americans don’t feel gun legislation needs to be passed this year

This doesn’t come as a shocker given my last point, yet gun rights advocates have to like this number: only 46% of Americans in the latest Pew Research poll believe it is essential to pass gun legislation this year. That number includes only 42% of independents, and in fact, only 71% of Democrats who think that gun safety legislation is essential this year.

This is a key point because Republicans might fear being seen, once again, as “too rigid” and the “party of no”, as many Americans feel they are. But they can rest a little easier when it comes to guns. The American public seems to be saying that there’s nothing wrong with a delay.

4. Public opinion on gun control will eventually run out

If new gun laws aren’t passed this year, then they likely won’t be passed at all. Past history indicates that the current tide of opinion in favor of gun control will ebb over the course of the year. After Columbine, the only event in recent history with a comparable increase in favor of gun control, the high-water mark dropped after a year.

The reasons are twofold. First, the movement in favor of gun control has been driven mostly by media coverage. The media has yet to abandon stories about gun control, but time and a business imperative will eventually take their toll. Newer and more compelling news stories will fill the headlines, and most people will follow where the news coverage leads.

Second, the general movement over the past two decades has been against greater gun control. Take a look at the image above and take away the Sandy Hook spike. Prior to the Newtown shooting, the percentage of Americans in favor of stricter gun control had dropped below 50% – the first time that had ever happened.

Thus, from a game theory standpoint, I’m not exactly sure congressional members who want minimal gun control should rush into any deal. They have the numbers to stop any gun control measures in the Senate by filibuster, and they have a majority in the House. As importantly, if they look at the polling, they’ll know that they won’t face much of a penalty from the public: America isn’t exactly clamoring for tighter gun control and believes that other steps would do more to curb gun violence.

This is not to say a bill on background checks won’t pass through Congress. It’s just that the current hold-up should surprise no one; and despite the weight of current opinion, the pressure to make a law on guns probably won’t increase. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

How Senate Democrats, not just House Republicans, will block gun control | Harry J Enten

A filibuster-proof majority in Senate is already a stretch, but red state Democrats up for re-election may make it unreachable

Vice-President Biden’s group will make recommendations to President Obama this week on gun control. Majorities of Americans support numerous new gun restrictions, yet I’m pessimistic that anything will get through Congress. Why?

You might expect me to cite the Republican-controlled House, but the chances that the Democratic-controlled Senate will pass anything are not much better.

The Democrats need 60 votes to achieve “cloture” or avoid a filibuster, and that seems near-impossible. Assuming all 55 Democrats vote for a piece of gun control legislation, another five Republicans must join the coalition. I can only think of four Republicans who are gettable.

Mark Kirk, from blue state Illinois, has a lifetime F-rating from the NRA and has voiced support for an assault weapons ban. Susan Collins, from Obama-voting Maine, and Dan Coats of Indiana have each received a C+ from the NRA, and worse grades from the Gun Owners of America. Finally, John McCain of Arizona only has a B+ from the NRA and a C- from the Gun Owners.

These four Republicans, plus all the Democrats, equal only 59, which, of course, isn’t 60. Every other Republican has at least an A from either the NRA or the Gun Owners. There would have to be a major change of heart from at least one Republican in order to avoid a filibuster or make cloture.

But even if you got that magical one Republican, the openness to discuss gun control from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, isn’t likely to be shared by six red state Democrats who are set to run for re-election in 2014.

The reason is that regardless of how Americans view gun control right now, research indicates that they are likely to be at least somewhat affected by cues from their party leaders. This is especially the case if the party is out of power, as the Republicans currently are. You saw this during healthcare reform debate of 2009 when most Americans were in favor of Obamacare at first, then turned against it once it became a partisan issue and Republican leaders resisted the reforms. Americans then opposed the new law even as they still supported most of the policies contained within it. A similar outcome is possible this time, as Republicans leaders have not indicated much of any movement on gun control.

Pew Research found that Americans who prioritize gun rights over gun control, as well as gun owners, are more likely to say that the Republican party does a better job of reflecting their views on gun control, by margins of 44 percentage points and 22pt, respectively. Americans against gun control are more likely to be politically active than their pro-control counterparts: they are 17pt more likely to to contribute money, contact a public official, sign a petition, or express an opinion on a social network. I can’t imagine a senator from a red state, especially one in which there are more guns per household than the national average, wanting to go up against a barrage from pro-gun forces.

That’s why Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota all have A ratings from the NRA. They all come from states ranked third or fourth in gun ownership – at least 57% of households have a gun in the home. Baucus voted against a renewal of the assault weapons ban in 2004; Begich said he’d vote against it even after Newtown; and Johnson has seen his NRA grade go from a C+ in 2003 to an A, with an NRA endorsement, during his 2008 re-election fight.

The electoral prospects for each man adds to the unlikelihood that any will cast a vote in favor of serious gun control legislation. According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), Baucus has a net approval rating of -3pt and leads a generic Republican candidate by only 3pt. Begich won election 2008 by only 1pt and is rated as “vulnerable” by the Cook Political Report, which also pegs Johnson as the incumbent most likely to lose in 2014.

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, too, is likely a goner on serious gun control legislation, despite a C from the NRA. She voted against renewing the assault weapons ban in 2004, and pretty much every other gun control measure of the past eight years. She won re-election in 2008 by six points – against a relatively weak opponent and in a state that voted for Romney by 17pt. She is “at risk” per the Cook Political Report. In Louisiana, 44% of households have a gun, 14th most in the nation.

Only Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas could go in favor of gun control. Hagan has an F from NRA, though she voted in favor in loosening regulations across state lines and calls herself a strong supporter of the second amendment. Pryor has a C-. He also voted to renew the assault weapons ban in 2004, and has wavered only occasionally since.

Again, the issue is that the Cook Political Report puts both of them at risk, come election season. Hagan’s net approval rating of -2 per PPP means she can’t afford to lose many voters, even if her state ranks only 23rd in the nation for households with guns, at 41%.

Pryor might be in an even worse spot. In 2012, Obama lost Arkansas by 24pt, and Democrats lost their control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Democrats had three of the state’s four representatives in Congress during Pryor’s last election, but don’t have a single one now. He simply doesn’t need enemies in a state where 55% of households have a gun – sixth most in the nation.

So, I don’t think you can count on any red state Senate Democrat who is running in 2014. Taking away these six leaves the pro-control caucus with 53 votes in the Senate, at most – even with the four Republicans. Counting Hagan and Pryor only leaves the pro-control caucus with 55 votes.

Let’s also be real here. Joe Manchin has only said that “everything should be on the table”. He hasn’t actually committed to anything concrete. Neither have Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, nor Jon Tester of Montana – all red state Democratic senators given A-ratings by the NRA – committed to anything specific.

That’s why the smart analysis says that the chances of Congress passing serious gun control legislation decrease by the day. The House is a foregone conclusion. When all these numbers start getting added together, I’m not even sure you can find a simple majority of senators to agree on tougher gun control. A filibuster-proof majority, meanwhile, is likely impossible. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

How far can President Obama go with an executive order on gun control? | Harry J Enten

Since any gun safety law would face opposition in a Republican-controlled Congress, the president must weigh public opinion

Vice-President Joe Biden’s gun panel is set to report to President Barack Obama next Tuesday. The common view is that any legislation that is at all controversial would have a difficult time getting passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Now, Biden has raised the possibility of getting gun control measures by executive order.

My advice for the president as someone who reads polls: go for it, if it’s what you want to do. There is much discussion that acting by executive order would be seen as a “totalitarian” action and provoke a backlash. Nonsense, so long as the order is supporting a measure the public favors.

Consider that in June 2012 Obama took executive action on a “mini-Dream Act” that provided a path to avoid deportation for some undocumented immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16, had a high school education (or were attending school) or had served in the military, and had no criminal background. He did so administratively because he couldn’t get a law passed by Congress.

There was heavy public support before the order was signed. Back in late 2010, Gallup found that 54% of Americans would vote for a bill that would allow for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country in their youth to have a pathway to citizenship. A late 2011, a Fox Poll put support for such a law at 63%.

After Obama made the new policy instruction, the public held to its position. Five polls taken between the June announcement and now found that anywhere from 54% to 64% of Americans still believe that young undocumented immigrants should not be sent packing. This includes three questions that specifically mentioned Obama’s name, and that his administration had “announced” the policy change (in other words, the measure specifically didn’t pass through Congress).

You might argue that the gun debate is different because the powerful gun rights lobby would be able to convince the public otherwise. The flaw in that statement is that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is just not that popular these days: only 42% of Americans have a favorable view of the NRA per Public Policy Polling, which is down from 48% just a few weeks ago.

The president is also dealing with a public that’s seen its support for gun control climb higher since the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I count five pollsters (ABC/Washington Post, CBS News, Gallup, CNN/ORC, and YouGov) that asked a question about whether gun control should be stricter before and after Newtown. Before the massacre, the weaker “stay the same” position on gun control beat the stricter position by an average of 3.8 percentage points. Afterward, stricter led by 11.4pt – a 15.2pt turn-around.

Past history suggests that the president can’t wait around until he gets a Congress that is willing to cooperate. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, Americans’ support for stricter gun laws jumped by 5-10pt. After a year or two, the spike had abated and appetite for stricter gun laws continued its slow decline to the minority position it held just before Newtown.

So what policies should the president consider, as long as he thinks courts will uphold his orders?

• He should end the “gun show loophole” to force people who buy guns at a gun show or through private sales and online shopping to have a background check: 92% of Americans favor this position per Gallup, while PPP puts support at 76%.

• Obama should seek to ban high-capacity ammunition clips that contain more than 10 bullets: CNN/ORC, Gallup, Pew, PPP, and YouGov all show at least 53% of Americans in favor of this policy.

• He should seek ways to ensure that people with poor mental health records do not get a gun: CNN/ORC found that 92% Americans did not want Americans with mental health problems to be in possession of a gun; PPP took it one step farther and discovered that 63% of Americans want people to be required to take a health exam before buying a gun.

• Obama should obviously prevent felons convicted of a violent crime from owning a gun: 94% and 92% approve of that measure, per PPP and CNN/ORC respectively.

• He should try to make sure that guns, even if not recently purchased, would be registered with a government or law enforcement agency: CNN/ORC finds 78% agree with that policy.

• Obama should look to ban outright bullets that explode or are designed to break through a bullet-proof vest: Pew found that 56% favor this position.

• Obama should try to make it more difficult to buy ammunition and/or guns over the internet: 69% of Americans wanted to ban these practices, according to PPP.

You’ll note I don’t include an assault weapons ban. The reason is that pollsters are split: Gallup and Pew signal that a majority is opposed to banning assault or semi-automatic weapons, while ABC/Washington Post, CNN/ORC, PPP, and YouGov show the reverse. It seems to me that, politically speaking, an executive order would be the wrong course on an issue that apparently splits the country down the middle.

Further, the president would almost certainly be better-off passing any law through Congress. It not only looks better, but it lessens the chance of any political blowback I may be underestimating. The danger, of course, is that if a bill fails to get through Congress, it would look like awfully sour grapes then to obtain gun control measures through executive orders. It’s quite possible that the public would see that as executive over-reach.

Also, I am by no means a constitutional scholar: while there are plenty of people arguing in favor of executive action, others argue that some of these proposals, if put into action by executive order, would be unconstitutional and would be ruled so.

That said, if the president is sensitive to public opinion and reading the polls, there are a number of gun control policies he can obtain by executive order without fear of a backlash. But the lesson of Columbine is that he has a narrow window of opportunity, in the wake of Newtown, in which to act. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds