Why Are Conservatives So Obsessed With Gun Rights Anyway?

tags: Second Amendment, guns, gun control, gun rights, conservatives, Gun Violence

John Ehrenreich is a professor of psychology at the State University of New York–Old Westbury and the author of Third Wave Capitalism: How Money, Politics, and the Pursuit of Self-Interest have Imperiled the American Dream.

Why has support for gun rights become a hallmark of the Republican Party? There is nothing inevitable about the combination of economic and foreign policy conservatism with social conservatism. As late as the mid-1980s, conservative icons including Ronald Reagan supported gun control measures such as the Brady bill and a ban on assault weapons. Support for gun control legislation actually increased among Republicans in the 1980s. Unambiguous support for gun “rights” didn’t appear in the Republican Party platform until 1988. Even the National Rifle Association did not become fanatically opposed to any and all gun regulations until the late 1970s.

During his 2008 primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama famously proposed a crude psychological explanation for why traditionally Democratic-leaning groups of voters were being drawn to Republican positions on social issues. Industrial jobs had disappeared from the small towns of Pennsylvania and the Midwest, he noted, and Republicans and Democrats alike had failed to address the distress of these communities. So, he said, it’s not surprising that “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion.”

Obama’s explanation was superficially plausible (and has been widely adapted to explain the appeal of Donald Trump), but the facts provide little support for it. For one thing, the increase in attachment to guns that Obama lamented never actually happened. The percentage of American households owning a gun has declined steadily since the mid-1970s. For another, support for gun “rights” is actually stronger among more affluent Americans than among poorer Americans, the very ones who are supposed to be “bitter.”

In any case, events do not precede their causes. It is hard to find much evidence of the “Great Bitterness” before the past two decades, long after the decline in manufacturing and agricultural employment was already underway and long after the Republican Party’s shift to strong opposition to gun control.

A more workable psychological explanation begins by noting that psychologists have found consistent differences between conservatives and liberals in personality traits, attitudes, and moral stances. To summarize some of the research findings, conservatives tend to be more likely than liberals to accept or even embrace authority that is perceived to be legitimate. Conservatives tend to be more moralistic and more conventional than liberals. They tend to have a stronger need for order and control and stability and a greater dislike of change. ...

Read entire article at Slate

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