When I was in middle and high school, there were spirited public debates about whether the proliferation of grisly movies, gore-glorifying song lyrics and shoot-’em-up video games might desensitize my peers and me to violence.
While I’m reluctant to pin any of this on pop culture, it’s true that my generation appears somewhat inured to violence – at least violence involving firearms.
A decade or two post-adolescence – as our own preschool-age children now practice “active shooter” drills in which they’re coached to cower in the closet or throw toys at a tactical-gear-outfitted maniac – millennials seem to have neither the desire nor the willpower to pressure our political leaders to do much to prevent such tragedies. If anything, we may be slightly more blase about them than our elders.
Which does not bode well for liberals hoping that the arc of history will eventually bend toward greater gun control.
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Poll data about views of gun control and specific gun-control measures are mixed, and responses vary depending how questions are asked. But statements about protecting gun rights generally elicit at least as much support from younger Americans as from older ones.
Gallup regularly asks, for example, whether “laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now.” Over the past two years, about 49 percent of American adults under 35 have said they support “more strict” gun laws, compared with 56 percent of those 55 and older.
Two other recent surveys, from the Pew Research Center and The Post/ABC News, also asked about the relative importance of protecting gun rights versus other objectives, such as controlling gun ownership or reducing gun violence. Both found that about half of Americans young and old believe gun rights should take priority.
This is a bit puzzling, given that younger Americans are less Republican in their political leanings than older people are and are also less likely to own a gun – two factors that are usually strong predictors of opposition to gun restrictions. These survey data suggest, then, that younger people might be especially predisposed to oppose gun-control measures, after controlling for these variables.
The survey questions I’ve cited so far are of course relatively abstract. What about nitty-gritty, concrete policy proposals?
Again, for the most part, young people reveal themselves to be at least as pro-gun-rights as their elders, if not more so.
Pew found that younger and older Americans are about equally likely to favor background checks for gun shows (with more than 8 in 10 saying this) and to support laws barring mentally ill people from owning guns (also about 8 in 10).
The General Social Survey likewise shows that about 7 in 10 Americans across all age groups favor a law “which would require a person to obtain a police permit before he or she could buy a gun,” according to calculations from my Washington Post colleague Scott Clement.
On proposed bans of “assault-style weapons,” though, older people are considerably more supportive, with 63 percent of those 65 and older believing these are appropriate, compared with only 49 percent of people under 30, according to Pew.
YouGov similarly finds that older people are more likely to back bans on semiautomatic weapons, bans on selling magazine clips for semiautomatic weapons that hold 10 or more rounds and a five-day waiting period for purchasing a handgun.
The only gun-control policy proposal for which I’ve been able to find generally higher support among younger than older people is some sort of gun sale database or gun-owner registry.
According to YouGov, about half of those under 30 support a federal gun-owner registry, versus about a third of those over 65. But it’s possible that young people have become more comfortable with bulk data collection than their elders are, whether or not such data are connected to a hot-button issue such as firearms.
You may have noticed that sizable shares – sometimes healthy majorities – of Americans of all ages express support for tighter controls on gun ownership, both in the abstract and the specific. Despite such public support, of course, nothing has happened, presumably because politicians are more fearful of the gun lobby than their own constituents’ views on gun control. (Shocker, I know, that legislation doesn’t necessarily reflect the democratic will of the people.)
Given the ambivalence of today’s young people – who are tomorrow’s high-voter-turnout middle-aged and older people – I wouldn’t expect that balance of power to shift anytime soon.
Washington Post Writers Group