Washington politicians cannot ignore issue of guns any longer

Washington politicians cannot ignore issue of guns any longer
© Greg Nash

My six-year-old daughter is just sort of beginning to understand her parents work in politics. “How does someone run for office?” she asked, so I explained all kinds of people can run for office, even kids who have an idea about how to make their school better. Her ideal platform, she decided, would be to get rid of all the teachers so “the kids could be in charge and just eat candy.” Even at six, she’s fantasizing about patronage, perks and getting rid of her political enemies.

Yet, the movement for stronger gun laws spurred by the Parkland school shooting shows us how teachers and students can lock arms and model real leadership for a dysfunctional Washington. Despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE floating the idea of arming teachers, with many Republicans predictably following suit, the views of teachers are quite clear.

A new Gallup poll shows three-fourths of teachers oppose teachers and staff carrying guns, with a majority saying the policy would make them less safe. A poll of National Education Association members conducted by GBA Strategies shows very similar findings. (Even Barron Trump’s own school joined a regional call to not arm teachers.) It’s sometimes hard to push aside the White House chaos and drama to remember Trump’s policies are also wildly unpopular.

While much has been written about a recent shift on guns, with many saying “this time it’s different,” young people were already moving toward support for stronger laws. The Harvard Institute of Politics Youth Poll last winter showed a majority, at 61 percent, of younger adults supported “stricter gun laws,” a 12-point jump in just a few years. For young people guns are not just a political position but a personal fear. A new USA Today poll of those ages 13 to 24 shows gun violence to be a top worry, more so than even college affordability, racism or climate change.

For gun law skeptics who assume teachers and younger people are simply destined to be progressive anyway, the polling suggests otherwise. In the National Education Association member survey, opposition to arming teachers is so pervasive, even a majority of gun-owning educators oppose it. Moreover, a recent Pew Research study comparing generations shows younger people have turned sharply Democratic under Trump, continuing a trend that cannot be explained by just hoping they’ll grow out of it.

Republican leaders looking at these patterns might be tempted to lean on the conventional wisdom that gun owners are more enthusiastic about their position than those who want stronger laws. But this is more myth than wisdom. A Quinnipiac poll recently measured single-issue gun voting: those who would vote against a candidate with whom they disagreed on guns, even if they agreed on other issues. Not only did it find gun law opponents just as likely as supporters to be single-issue voters, supporters outnumbered opponents by more than two-to-one. That means in this poll, the bloc of voters who say they just won’t stand for new stronger gun laws comprises only about 10 percent of the electorate.

Of course, the battle for stronger gun laws is not just about school shootings, student walkouts or arming teachers. Stronger gun laws can reduce deaths from accidental shootings, intimate partner violence and suicide. Voters, unlike Washington, seemingly know this, too. A poll I conducted in 2017 for the group Guns Down (not in the wake of a well-publicized mass shooting) showed a majority of Americans supported 15 of 16 different stronger gun law proposals, including strong support from gun owners.

So it is Washington politicians who see gun laws as all or nothing, and choose to do nothing. Most Americans — whether young people, teachers, activists or even gun owners — want to see something. Running for office isn’t about the politics or the perks, but about listening to voters. Thanks to the national movement of students and educators, many are finally recognizing the support that’s been there all along. The only thing that can truly be different is if this time Washington listens. Should politicians ignore the passion behind this Saturday’s March For Our Lives, they might just have to wait until November to get the message.

Margie Omero (@MargieOmero) is a principal at the Democratic polling firm GBA Strategies and co-host of The Pollsters weekly podcast.