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Understanding the Country's Choice on Guns

This is a key point.

According to Pew, the number of people who say it's more important to protect 'gun rights' than control gun ownership finally became the majority opinion after Newtown. Roper meanwhile has parallel data, albeit using a slightly different question to get the broadest measure of the country's attitude toward guns.

But the full picture only becomes clear when you look at the internals of these polls.

The real story is that guns have become a key part of Republican partisan self-identification since the dawn of the Obama era. Republicans and Democrats have seen the gun control issue differently for decades. But not that differently. Democrats strongly supported gun control. And Republicans were basically divided on the issue. As Pew's Carroll Doherty noted in this Pew write-up, "as recently as 2007, 48% of Republicans and GOP leaners said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 47% said it was more important to protect gun rights."

The dawn of the Obama era brought a transformation that you can see powerfully in this chart of Pew data over the last quarter century.

The politics transformed because of a dramatic shift in opinion on the part of Republicans that began at the outset of the Obama presidency. Democrats have remained more or less unchanged in their position, at least within a band that has been broadly stable since the early 90s. This probably overlaps with the dramatic increase in gun and ammunition purchases after President Obama's election.

Going slightly beyond what the data tells us, it seems clear that being pro-gun has become a key element of Republican self-identification. That is to say, it's not just that many Republicans' views have changed since Obama took office, but that being pro-gun has become an elemental part of what it means to be a Republican.

Some related questions are less clear cut. For instance, the belief that more guns make us safer rather than less safe (a proposition that appears to be belied by all available social science) has grown more widely. Notably, that belief has grown dramatically in recent years among African Americans.

It seems reasonable to anticipate that if more people come to believe that more guns mean more safety that opposition to gun control will eventually fall in line with those views. So far, it hasn't.

But the basic point is clear. The politics of guns has transformed dramatically because starting at the time Barack Obama was elected President, Republicans became dramatically more committed to the right to own guns.

About The Author

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.