GOP pollster: Why bipartisan gun legislation should be the norm, not the exception
Over the course of nearly three decades, Congress followed a familiar pattern on guns. Send “thoughts and prayers” in reaction to the latest horrific mass shooting, take failed votes on a laundry list of gun safety bills, and get nothing done.
I am a long-time Republican pollster who has polled for elected GOP members who rarely support new gun laws. So, what went right this time so that lawmakers could finally come together and pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act? The answer is simple: Democrats agreed not to make the perfect the enemy of the good, and Republicans heard from their own voters who wanted to see action.
This may sound “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” corny coming from a pollster, but the fundamental role of a Member of the House or Senate is to represent the interests of the constituents who send them to D.C. And the truth is that Americans of all political stripes see an urgent need for gun safety reforms.
In a recent survey my polling firm GS Strategy Group conducted in partnership with the centrist think tank Third Way, an overwhelming majority of voters in key red states said they thought it was too easy to get a gun in America. Too easy in Texas. Too easy in South Carolina. And yes, too easy in Florida.
Our survey also revealed that voters — including Republicans and gun-owners — support common-sense gun safety measures. A whopping 90 percent of voters in Florida support expanding background checks; 79 percent of voters in South Carolina support red flag laws; 80 percent of voters in Texas support raising the purchase age for semi-automatic weapons to 21, and 81 percent of voters in Utah support closing the boyfriend loophole. These are not extreme policies. They are mainstream ideas, and lawmakers shouldn’t shy away from them for fear of electoral backlash. In fact, our survey showed that voters in Florida would be 51 percent more likely to support Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and in Texas 58 percent more likely to support Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) if they voted in favor of the policies included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
While the will of the people is essential, it is rarely enough to seal the deal. The other key component to lawmaking — arguably the most crucial, given our political climate — is compromise. With such a thin majority likely to persist no matter which party holds power, being willing to negotiate, bend, and accept half a loaf (or even a single slice) is imperative.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is the product of hard-fought compromise. This long overdue progress is the result of lawmakers putting aside differences, focusing on common ground, and accomplishing what the American people sent them to Congress to do. There are certainly some lawmakers who may have wanted more, and those who wanted less, but their willingness to meet in the middle to get something done is vital to our success as a country. Our great nation was built on compromise, and we will continue to thrive because of it, not in spite of it.
This historic legislation will save lives. And it will do so without infringing on the ability of law-abiding gun owners to exercise their Second Amendment rights legally and freely. It is an all too rare outcome in Washington D.C. — a win-win.
So, let’s build on this moment to make compromises of this nature the norm, not the exception.
It’s time to take this model and ask: what’s next?
Robert Jones is partner at GS Strategy Group and previously worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee.