Old White Men and Their Guns

So are you among those wondering how the roughly 10% of the population that opposes strong gun background check legislation prevailed over everybody else? It’s fashionable to intone something about anti-gun “intensity” and let it go, but at Ten Miles Square, David Karol looks a little more closely at the mass base for the gun lobby:

Polls tell us something about the characteristics of gun rights supporters and gun owners specifically. If we look at these categories, we see that they are disproportionately white, male and old. Disproportionately white, male and old is a description that fits the Senate and,to a lesser degree, most other American political elites quite well. For example campaign contributors are disproportionately white male, and old too. Gun rights supporters are also more likely to be registered to vote than gun control advocates. So from this standpoint the cause of gun rights gets more of a hearing because it appeals to the kind of citizens who are already comfortable and used to participating in politics.

White and old, of course, also describes disproportionate elements of the midterm electorate that senators like Mark Pryor and Max Baucus and Mark Begich–whose states are also disproportionately rural (another gun fan characteristic)–will face in 2014. Add in the Senate’s inherent skew in representation, and the filibuster, and the particular power of old white men with guns in the activist base of one of the two major parties, and you are a long way towards converting 10% to 45% of actual votes in the Senate. I’d also observe that some of the polling we’ve seen on background checks may also reflect the not-so-distant memory of NRA members that their organization used to support strong background checks as an alternative to assault gun bans or registration. “Tell your senator to vote no on Manchin-Toomey” communications from the NRA and like-minded organizations would easily offset that anachronistic sentiment.

Karol puts some stock, moreover, in the social interaction of gun enthusiasts in gun clubs or even hunting trips. I suppose every little bit helps in amplifying their power and sense of defensive unity. But let’s not forget that a lot of these are folks who are accustomed to having their way, and of getting defensively angry when they don’t.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.