For the past 15 years, I have been deeply immersed in the study of the Roman Catholic Church in America.
Having studied religion and politics for a number of years, when I started becoming interested in guns and gun culture, it immediately occurred to me that debates over gun control are like debates over abortion – they are “culture wars,” but wars that are fought most prominently by elites not among the average citizen. The average citizen, most research finds, is somewhere in the middle on abortion. They favor the right of women to have abortions, but also the responsibility of society (acting through our government) to regulate abortions.
The public opinion data on gun control, I believe, is similar. People generally favor the right of Americans to keep and bear arms, but also the responsibility to enact reasonable restrictions on what, where, when, and how arms can be kept and borne. The following graphic from an August 2012 CNN poll, reported in a Washington Post blog by Ezra Klein, shows as much.
This is the broad and deep middle of our country. The recent mass murder of children in Connecticut is a tragedy that could become a moment for us all to move toward one another, to the middle, rather than away from one another, to either extreme.
I doubt it will, though. Politics is where we hash out as a society the relative balance between rights and responsibilities on these issues. But our political culture and political institutions do not seem up to the task. I expect, therefore, further polarization — the broad and deep middle of American society notwithstanding.