Next week Congress will reconvene and feel the pressure to “do something” about guns and gun violence. Some Democratic presidential candidates have proposed a number of federal gun policies. They range from implementing a mandatory government buy-back program to requiring every American to obtain a federal license to purchase a firearm. Some call for banning “assault weapons” and most call for universal background checks.
The members of Congress promoting these various federal gun policies cite a number of polls that document public frustration with shootings and congressional inaction. But they might also want to look deeper into these polls to understand what American voters really would feel are appropriate policies.
Sometimes Americans tell pollsters they want congressional action but aren’t really ready to pay for it. You might remember my commentary last month on climate change. Americans said they wanted Congress to address this environmental issue, but a majority said they were only willing to spend a dollar a month on the issue.
A Pew Research Center study on the demographics of gun ownership found that nearly a majority (42%) of American adults live in a household with a firearm. That percentage (58%) is even higher for rural Americans. Many of them live in the swing states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Nearly three-quarters of Americans who own guns said they “can’t see themselves not owning one.”
Most proponents of universal background checks argue that this would require a national gun registry. That would be the only way the government could determine if a transaction was made in compliance. How many of those Americans I just mentioned who live in a household with a firearm would feel comfortable having their firearms registered with the federal government?
Americans may be calling for congressional action, but I suspect some members of Congress and various candidates have misread what voters would find acceptable.