On Monday, comedian Amy Schumer made an emotional plea for Congress to enact stricter gun laws. She isn’t alone. According to the non-partisan Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans favor background checks, mental health restrictions, a federal gun database and a ban on assault weapons.
But gun control isn’t likely to happen in this Congress.
It’s something of a paradox: Congress routinely fails to enact stricter gun laws despite widespread support for specific gun-control policies.
An obvious reason for this is that Republicans control the House and Senate, and they tend not to support gun control.
A less obvious reason is the Senate’s bias against large states. Among the Constitution’s many compromises, the decision to give states equal representation in the Senate was among the most significant. In establishing a “malapportioned” Senate, the framers created an undemocratic body that gives disproportionate power to small, rural states. And the simple fact is that senators from rural states (even Democratic ones) are less likely to support gun control.
Does the National Rifle Association cause lawmakers to vote against gun control? Some research says yes. But the NRA is not likely to be the deciding factor in whether gun control passes or fails.
There are two leading explanations for why Congress fails to enact stricter gun laws despite widespread public support for such measures. One is that while proponents of stricter gun laws are more numerous, they are simply less enthusiastic than opponents. And while Americans support specific gun-control policies on public opinion surveys, people are generally lukewarm to the idea of “gun control.”
In her remarks on Monday, Amy Schumer said that while these were her “first public comments on gun violence,” it “wouldn’t be my last.” If history is any barometer, she’s right. Gun control is likely to remain an issue beyond the current Congress.
Assistant professor of political science, College of Charleston