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Both President Obama and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, reaffirmed their support for gun rights in the aftermath of the shootings and declined to back new gun control measures. On the contrary, Obama spokesman Jay Carney stressed that the president would “protect Second Amendment rights.” While the call for stricter gun control did go up from predictable sources like liberal columnists and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the media mostly restrained the impulse to endorse new restrictions on firearms.
Democrats and anti-gun activists wasted little time assigning blame for the dearth of enthusiasm for gun control to that familiar boogeyman, the National Rifle Association. Thus, New York’s Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer lamented what he called the “power of the NRA” in stifling political support for gun control, while in neighboring New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez complained that the NRA was using its “money” and “resources” to “oppose all reasonable gun legislation” and to drive the national debate in its favor.
However one measures the political clout of the NRA, the organization simply is not powerful enough to transform American public opinion in the manner that Democrats suggest. Indeed, their argument has it backward: To the extent that the NRA’s skepticism about gun control is influential in American politics it is because it mostly reflects a gradual decline in support for gun control among the American public. Polls bear this out. A 1991 Gallup poll found that 78 percent of Americans supported stricter laws on the sale of firearms. By 2011, public support for gun control had eroded, with just 43 percent favoring stricter gun control. Americans still have their political hobbyhorses, but by and large gun control is not one of them.
Several factors explain gun control’s plummeting popularity. For one thing, much of current gun control legislation was enacted into law on the dubious premise that a reduced availability of legal firearms would curtail violent crime. Yet, as the economist John Lott has long argued, the correlation between guns and crime is statistically shaky. Crime rates have fallen in the United States for several decades even as rates of gun ownership have increased. Washington D.C., which until recently had one of the strictest gun control laws in the country, also has some of the highest rates of crime in the nation. In fact, crime rates shot up after the city’s ban on handguns went into effect in 1976. The United States is not the only country to illustrate the paradox of more guns and less crime. Countries like Israel and Switzerland have comparatively lax gun control regimes, yet their homicide rates are roughly comparable to those of the UK and Japan, which have strict gun control policies.
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