Last week, Gavin Newsom announced he was backing a new ballot initiative that would require, among other things, background checks for the purchase of ammunition. Pundits were skeptical, both about the proposition’s success as well as its wisdom.
However, this week gun control has been given new momentum. In the wake of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, New York and Connecticut passed sweeping new gun control laws to ban possession of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines.
Those provisions were challenged in court, and yesterday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan held “the core provisions of the New York and Connecticut laws prohibiting possession of semiautomatic assault weapons and large‐capacity magazines do not violate the Second Amendment, and that the challenged individual provisions are not void for vagueness.”
The court wrote that both states have “substantial, indeed compelling, governmental interests in public safety and crime prevention.”
“We need only inquire, then, whether the challenged laws are ‘substantially related’ to the achievement of that governmental interest. We conclude that the prohibitions on semiautomatic assault weapons and large‐capacity magazines meet this standard,” the court wrote.
“When used, these weapons tend to result in more numerous wounds, more serious wounds, and more victims. These weapons are disproportionately used in crime, and particularly in criminal mass shootings,” according to the ruling written by Circuit Judge José A. Cabranes. “They are also disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers.”
“Like assault weapons, large-capacity magazines result in ‘more shots fired, persons wounded, and wounds per victim than do other gun attacks,'” the court said.
The plaintiffs, a New York affiliate of the NRA, will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen praised the ruling.
“At a time when many Americans have abandoned hope of government’s ability to address gun violence in our schools and on our streets, Connecticut’s laws — and today’s decision — demonstrate that willing states can enact meaningful reform to improve public safety without violating the Second Amendment,” Mr. Jepsen said in a statement.
Meanwhile, an analysis of by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler in the Washington Post found, “The National Rifle Association’s days of being a political powerhouse may be numbered. Why? The answer is in the numbers.”
As our analysis showed last week, demographic trends are moving against the NRA. Writes Professor Winkler, “Support for, and opposition to, gun control is closely associated with several demographic characteristics, including race, level of education and whether one lives in a city. Nearly all are trending forcefully against the NRA.”
He continues, “The core of the NRA’s support comes from white, rural and relatively less educated voters. This demographic is currently influential in politics but clearly on the wane. While the decline of white, rural, less educated Americans is generally well known, less often recognized is what this means for gun legislation.”
He cited polling that showed whites favor gun rights over gun control by a significant 57-40 percent margin. But, while whites are about 63 percent of the current population, they “won’t be in the majority for long. Racial minorities are soon to be a majority, and they are the nation’s strongest supporters of strict gun laws.”
Among African Americans, gun control is favored over gun rights 72-24 percent. However, African Americans’ support is growing slowly.
Professor Winkler writes, “The fastest-growing minority group in America is Latinos. Between 2000 and 2010, the nation’s Latino population grew by 43 percent. Hispanics, which make up 17 percent of the population today, are expected to grow to 30 percent of the population in the coming decades. Gun control is extremely popular among Hispanics, with 75 percent favoring gun safety over gun rights.”
Asian Americans are also a fast growing population. Right now they represent just 5 percent of the US population, but they are expected to triple over the next decade or two. One poll found that 80 percent of Asian registered voters supported stricter gun laws.
Professor Winkler writes, “After the 2012 election, Republican officials said the party needed to do more to appeal to the growing population of racial minorities. Yet the party’s refusal to bend on gun legislation highlights the difficulty of such efforts. If the GOP compromises on guns to appeal to minorities, it might lose support among its core of white voters.”
It is not just a racial demographic change. There is also a rural-urban split. Rural voters oppose gun control, with 63 percent favoring gun rights. However, as Professor Winkler points out, the country is becoming less rural, with a “significant increase in the number of people living in cities, with big metropolitan areas experiencing double-digit growth.”
Mr. Winkler points out, “Urban residents strongly prefer gun control to gun rights (60 percent to 38 percent).” He argues that these reasons “aren’t hard to understand,” “When gun violence is on your television news every night and police are commonplace, people may come to view guns more as a threat than a savior.”
Support for gun control is also correlated with levels of education. Guns rights are favored 50-47 percent among those with a high school education, and that shifted to 58 percent in favor of gun control with a college degree. And again the trendline is moving toward gun control advocates: “Between 2002 and 2012, enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 24 percent.”
Mr. Winkler’s analysis finds that crime trends favor control as well. “During the 1970s and ’80s, when crime rates were skyrocketing, the self-defense argument easily found an audience. Yet recent years have seen a drastic reduction in crime; today the crime rate is half of what it was in 1980. Given that this drop coincided with a serious economic downturn, which is usually a predictor of an increase in crime, it is not unreasonable to predict that crime rates aren’t likely to climb significantly anytime soon.”
He points to “one demographic change that helps the NRA. Americans are aging, and older people tend to favor gun rights over gun control by a slim margin (48 percent to 47 percent). Yet these numbers aren’t radically different from young people (48 percent to 50 percent), so even an aging population won’t be nearly enough to counter the other, stronger demographic shifts.”
It was not long ago in 2008, after analyzing the demographic trends, that we recognized that the country was headed for legalized same-sex marriage despite the setback in the California passage of Proposition 8. Little did we realize it would be only seven years before same-sex marriage was legalized.
With this data at hand, it seems that tougher gun laws are likely to get enacted. The only question is how far they will go and how quickly.
—David M. Greenwald reporting