Why Public Opinion About Gun Control Doesn't Matter

No amount of noise by the Obama administration can make Congress pass background check legislation.

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A man practices firing a pistol while taking an NRA Basic Pistol Course at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store in Tinley Park, Ill.

Even though the likelihood of a bipartisan compromise in the Senate on President Obama's gun control proposal has increased slightly, it's unlikely that any bill will become law. The President's call to improve the background check process is dead-on-arrival. No amount of town halls, Bloomberg sponsored TV ads, or presidential calls for a vote are going to motivate the 113th Congress to press forward.

Senate passage won't compel Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, to put the legislation to a vote. Boehner has gone on record saying "not under my gavel," and congressional Republicans have shown little interest in discussing the measures. Their 2014 reelection efforts, coupled with their reliance on campaign donations from gun rights groups, prevents any consideration.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

The president's argument that a "majority of the public supports" stricter regulations is fuzzy. Indeed, recent polls indicate that 91 percent of Americans want an improved background check process, but the results of surveys asking different versions of the question don't offer the same evidence. Only a slight majority support stricter measures, and when you slice the data by party, Republicans overwhelmingly oppose them. Public opinion doesn't matter.

Why? Incumbent Republicans running for reelection in next year's midterms don't care about majority opinion. Their focus is on what strong partisan voters want. They're the ones who will vote in the primaries and donate money to congressional campaigns. Midterm races see about 35 percent voter turnout. The majority stays home.

The only way stricter gun regulations will see the light of day is when gun rights groups soften their stance. But this depends on the opinion of their members. Change will come when members pressure their leadership to support stronger regulations.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

But this isn't going to happen anytime soon. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre is under tremendous pressure from these same people to stay tough. However, the NRA has moderated in the past. Back in the 1990s, the organization was amenable to comprehensive gun registration laws. However, member pressure in the 2000s changed that. As the GOP grew more conservative, so did the NRA.

Until change occurs on the grassroots level, the status quo will persist.

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