THE BLOG

What Happened to All the Concern About Guns?

12/12/2013 11:56 am ET | Updated Feb 11, 2014

For a few months after Sandy Hook, it looked like the government was going to pass a new gun control law, specifically aimed at keeping guns out of the "wrong" hands. The president got behind a bill, ditto the gun-control advocacy groups, the pundits wrote and spoke, even the lamentably tragic Newtown parents had their moment on the White House porch.

Meanwhile, everyone forgot the simple fact that the Democrats could barely muster 60 votes for any kind of legislation, a weakness that was exploited by the NRA and its allies to a remarkably-effective degree. All the polls showed a majority of Americans favored stricter gun control, but those numbers didn't translate into 60 votes on the Senate floor, so Manchin-Toomey quickly died.

Then nine months and one day after Adam Lanza went on a rampage in Newtown, another loony named Aaron Alexis killed 12 people at the Navy Yard in DC and the response from the White House and Capitol Hill was no response at all. But here's the more important news: Four days after the Navy Yard shooting, Gallup conducted its annual poll on whether Americans thought we needed stricter gun control, and the percentage of respondents who wanted stricter laws declined significantly from the previous year!

Gallup has been running this poll since 2000, and the question is always the same: "Do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?" The high watermark for making the laws more strict was the first year of the poll, with 62 percent wanting the laws to be more strict and 31 percent wanting them to remain the same.

Year after year the trends narrowed until 2011-2012, when the percentage of Americans who wanted stricter gun laws versus those who saw no reason for change were basically the same. Then we had Sandy Hook, and for the first time since the poll was initially conducted, respondents by almost a two-to-one margin once again opted for stricter laws covering guns.

And yet, according to the latest Gallup finding in the aftermath of both Newtown and the Navy Yard, for the first time since 2008, less than 50 percent want stricter gun laws and the percentages who want the laws unchanged (37 percent) or want the laws to be less strict (13 percent) have both gone up.

How is it that a majority of Americans now believe gun laws should be weakened or remain the same? Part of the answer lies in the degree to which the NRA and the NSSF have continued their grass-roots efforts to mobilize their memberships while the gun control groups, lacking a legislative push on Capitol Hill, have gone back to sleep. The gun folks have become obsessively safety-conscious, just take a look at the NSSF's Project ChildSafe website and you'll get my point.

But the real reason for this attitudinal change is because public opinion doesn't push politics, it's usually the other way around: political leadership shapes public opinion. The jump in public demand for more gun control after Sandy Hook occurred because the president made guns an issue in every speech he gave. Once Obama and the Democrats stopped talking about gun violence, so did everyone else.

If you believe that we need stricter gun laws, then the year since Sandy Hook should give you no comfort at all. You might cynically believe that gun control will remain on the back burner until another massacre takes place, but if it happens when political agendas are focused on other issues, even the slightest attempt to push a common-sense response to gun violence probably won't get very far.