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Gun Politics Polarizing Americans

Matt Grossman, associate professor of political science, talks about his research on Monday September 14, 2015.

As emotions around the world run high following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, people are processing what happened and how it could have been prevented. Many are looking to Congress for policy changes, but Michigan State University political science expert Matt Grossmann believes that it’s more complicated, and deeper-rooted, than a vote for immediate change.

“Gun control is polarizing our public and dividing our states on gun policy,” Grossmann said. “The NRA and gun-rights groups are critical forces in our politics – but winning only with Republican voters and in Republican states.”

A common misconception is that these gun groups buy politicians, but it’s more about buying party allegiance and preventing opposition.

“It’s mostly hyperbole that campaign contributions can directly buy votes in Congress. The debate is on clear party and ideological lines,” Grossmann said.

The NRA, or National Rifle Association, has a long history intertwined with politics, Grossmann explains. Yet, it’s not as simple as buying seats in the House or Senate; instead, the goal of gun-rights groups is to ensure seats aren’t secured by politicians who support new restrictions in the first place. Democrats are far more vocal on gun control issues, Grossmann explained.

Republicans rarely stray from the party’s stance of opposing new gun restrictions while Democrats – once far more divided on the issue – have dug in on the notion of additional restrictions.

With the political positions backed by gun-rights groups, and inflexibilty on compromise, is there hope for Congress to make vulnerable places, like high schools, safer?

Potentially, but it could be challenging at the federal level. Grossmann explains that many states could independently move the needle on gun control and safety, but this could lead to an even more polarized nation with very different gun laws by state.

“This rhetoric is very familiar, and it’s too early to say if efforts by politicians can match the force of the NRA.”

Part of the issue, Grossmann said, is that gun owners are more politically active than non-gun owning counterparts.

“The gun-owning population is more likely to vote than non-gunowners because they’re extremely passionate about their issues. They are efficacious about political participation, they participate in politics surrounding this issue, sometimes exclusively around it,” he explained. Ultimately, demographics, voter habit, and grassroots opposition will eventually determine the outcome of this debate, but it won’t be overnight.

  • Caroline Brooks, Matt Grossmann via MSU Today

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