Second Amendment supporters are more passionate voters than gun control proponents, according to new polling that goes a long way toward explaining why mass shootings have done little to advance the cause of those who say stiffer laws are needed.
Overall, Americans do want to see stricter gun controls. But the 26 percent of voters who see guns as a make-or-break issue are significantly more likely to favor gun rights, according to Gallup polling released this week in the wake of the community college shooting spree in Oregon.
Just as striking is that when asked which party can do a better job on guns, voters give the GOP the edge, 46 percent to 37 percent, signaling a depth of acceptance for Republicans that’s bedeviled President Obama as he’s sought to push for stricter controls.
After a gunman killed eight students and one staffer at Umpqua Community College, Mr. Obama pleaded with gun control supporters to take their stance as seriously as Second Amendment backers do.
“You just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side,” Mr. Obama said.
In Washington, gun politics have been at a stalemate for more than a decade. If anything, Second Amendment supporters have had the upper hand, expanding gun rights on federal park lands and forcing the expiration of the assault weapons ban.
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Gun control advocates have long pondered why, when most voters say they agree with curbs such as limits on ammunition or expanding background checks, they have such a tough time getting those policies enacted. Indeed, 55 percent of Americans told Gallup they want laws covering firearms sales to be more strict — up 8 percentage points from last year.
But the single-issue voters change the political calculations.
“The Republican Party currently enjoys a slight upper hand on the issue in terms of which party Americans see as better reflecting their own views. But the party is also in less of a position to negotiate, as Republicans and conservatives are more likely to say a candidate must share their views on this issue,” Gallup concluded.
With the stalemate in Congress, White House spokesman Josh Earnest signaled Tuesday that Mr. Obama may try executive action, saying he is prepared to “use every element at his administrative authority” to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
But it’s unclear what else is possible without going to Capitol Hill, which is where the issue will ultimately be decided.
“You know, we are going to need to see the American people step up and to make their voices heard,” Mr. Earnest said. “It won’t be until that common-sense view is strongly conveyed to members of Congress, and until members of Congress understand that the votes they expect from their constituents will be contingent on them holding that same common-sense view.”
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Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the numbers on single-issue voters don’t concern him, saying he believed the energy level on his side of the issue is “very high” in the wake of the Oregon shooting.
“I’m 100% confident that when the parties come together for the general election debates, the nonsense we’ve been hearing from the likes of Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush will not wash,” Mr. Everitt said in an email, referring to three top Republican presidential contenders.
Indeed, Democratic presidential candidates like former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — who voted to extend her husband’s 1994 weapons ban that expired in 2004, while she was in the U.S. Senate — likewise say the politics can be changed.
Mrs. Clinton criticized Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, in last week’s Democratic presidential debate for being insufficiently tough on the issue.
Senate Democrats have also revived a push for measures like tightening gun purchase background checks in the wake of the Oregon shooting.
In an emailed pitch to supporters Tuesday, Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia said the “tide is turning” across America and that the Democrats’ legislation is “overwhelmingly” supported by the American people.
“We can’t keep waiting to do something about gun violence,” Mr. Warner wrote.
Gallup polling appeared to back up Mr. Warner’s claim; 86 percent of Americans said they favor universal background checks for all gun purchases in the country using a centralized database across all 50 states.
But those surveyed also didn’t think those changes would solve very much, with a majority saying they would reduce the number of mass shootings in the country “a little” or “not at all.” And 56 percent said the U.S. would be a safer place if more Americans were allowed to carry concealed weapons.
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.