Ryan Daniels | Gunning for change
Daniels, Straight Up | Why a post-NRA America will inevitably change its gun laws
September 24, 2013, 7:57 pm · Updated September 25, 2013, 12:04 am·
Daniels, Straight Up
Last week, 12 Americans were killed in a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., but unfortunately, this didn’t come as much of a surprise — these tragedies have become routine.
We murmured last week’s newsbreak with shaking heads instead of wide eyes and then moved on. At times it felt like more people mourned our sparse reactions than the tragedy itself. The nation’s brief grief was lamentably insufficient, critics declared, hardened by years of such events — a half-baked sigh at flags half-mast.
Regardless of its size, though, our all-too-familiar unrest was different than usual. For the first time I can recall, America’s aggravation and impatience following a mass shooting completely eclipsed its sorrow — crying over the fallen was drowned out by cries for new gun laws.
Last week’s response was different because the country’s sentiment concerning gun violence has changed. Our anger confirmed that, in 2013, we have found ourselves in a post-NRA America.
This should come as no surprise given the events of the year before, which proved to be too bloated with front-page gun violence for moderate America to stay the same.
The year began on a grim note, when former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords resigned office a year after being injured in a mass shooting. Headlines forced us to rechew the bitter tragedy we never thought we’d stomach.
Then, partway through the year, the Aurora movie theater shooting marked America’s highest victim count to date. In seconds, 300 bullets perforated America’s conscience, forcing a reevaluation of the Second Amendment’s cost.
The year ended with the horrific Sandy Hook tragedy, wrenching our hearts and guts. It tore open the wounds of July and prevented them from ever closing.
In effect, bloody 2012 shook the pro-gun fringes off the back of moderate America, allowing it to grasp some of the strangest shortcomings of our legal system. In early 2013, unfazed by rhetoric, we asked why our decision to prevent criminals from buying guns by requiring background checks didn’t apply to a shocking 40 percent of purchases.
A series of polls early this year confirmed this, showing that overwhelming majorities of Americans — between 83 and 91 percent — support closing the background check gap.
But if centrist America really wants changes like these, why do federal laws continue to stay the same?
If you’re looking forward to another blame game against the big, bad Washington gun lobby, you’re going to be disappointed. They are, without question, an extremely powerful interest preserving the status quo, but they are by no means the whole story — two political phenomena exist that are even more forceful.
One of them has to do with the wide variation in support levels between states and congressional districts. According to Penn political science professor Matthew Levendusky, Senators and members of Congress will almost always vote to appease their immediate constituents, instead of the general population.
In the Senate, where each state has equal representation, there are more conservative states with small populations than there are liberal states with large ones. Californians and New Yorkers — who make up roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population — receive the same voting power as Dakotans, who make up less than half of a percent.
There is also the issue of preference intensity. In an email, Levendusky explained that “members of Congress listen to the loud and organized” and “those who support gun control tend to support it somewhat weakly,” while those who oppose it “do so with a burning passion … they will make their voices heard.”
This can explain opposition to gun control measures in the House, where representation is proportionate to population. Even if the majority of a member’s district supports gun control, a more vocal minority can pressure the member into voting their way.
The good news is that the majority has finally made up its mind. It increasingly wants to close the loopholes through which guns slip, sometimes into the wrong hands. And as the sentiment changes and Americans become more impatient like they did last week, the issue of preference intensity could very well force the tides to turn — their voices will become louder, their passion will burn brighter.
Once the majority’s voice parallels its size, change will no doubt follow.
Ryan Daniels is a College senior from Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com. “Daniels, Straight Up” appears every Wednesday.