Losing Their Shot: Gun Control After Columbine

Support for more gun control plunges

Kathy and her sister running
A Rose Photography

Last Thursday was the two-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre that killed 33 students and teachers.

Earlier this month, a gunman killed 13 people in a Binghamton immigrant civic center before turning the weapon on himself. 

And today is the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado that took the lives of 12 students and one teacher and sparked a national debate on the nature of violence in the United States.

How much has changed? Well, in one certain area, a fair bit. 

It will undoubtedly come as a surprise to many, given what seems like an otherwise movement to the left on a number of issues (size of government, increased spending, more open foreign policy), but there is actually less support for gun control now than there was 10 years ago.  In the summer of 1999, after something of a wave of shootings, 63 percent of Americans supported stricter controls on firearms -- 46 percent "strongly" supported that notion, about twice as many as "strongly" opposed more gun control. 

But, today, only 39 percent favor stricter gun control laws.  In fact, the numbers have been falling fairly steadily over the last decade -- 54 percent in 2001, 50 percent in 2007 and now down to the current level.  And, it seems that the biggest drop has come from independents, who appear to be lining up with conservatives on this issue -- whereas they've sided with liberals and Democrats on most issues during the last two elections. 

Furthermore, in a development that might be troubling to those seeking stricter gun control, it seems that just the fear that an Obama administration will seek stronger laws has actually sparked more gun and ammo sales. Figure that last week's report on so-called "right-wing extremism" -- and the Department of Homeland Security's defensive approach to it -- will only exacerbate that.

But beyond all of the shootings -- and recent political events -- one can't ignore the continued impact of 9/11 on the national psyche. That event, more than anything else, may have forced Americans to recognize the importance of guns -- not as misused by psychos -- but as properly used for self-defense.  The cops and the military won't always be there to protect individuals. Some times, a citizen has to depend on his or herself.  

That viewpoint might not have much resonance in blue states, but it does in the red states.  Even Barack Obama gave mild concurrence to last year's Supreme Court decision recognizing an individual right to bear arms. And independents, it seems, are the ones willing to vote with their gun licenses.   

Robert A. George is a New York writer.  He blogs at Ragged Thots.

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