Guest Editorials, Opinion

A generational shift on guns

New polling shows trouble ahead for Republican politicians who continue blocking any attempt at rational restrictions on guns: Young conservatives of the kind the GOP will increasingly need in the future are far more open to required psychological exams for gun purchasers and other firearms limits than are their older conservative counterparts. 

The reason is hardly mysterious: Gen Z — including its more right-leaning members — have all grown up in a country drowning in gun violence thanks to older conservatives’ stubborn resistance to even the mildest gun-safety proposals. 

Mass school shootings have become such a routine part of American life that it’s easy to forget it hasn’t always been like this. The start of this dark era is generally put at 1999, the year of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, which left 15 dead. 

As the nation reeled from the shock of what was then a singular tragedy, a barrage of new firearms restrictions were proposed in Congress. As the debate wore on, it soon became apparent that even this horrific demonstration of the dangers of America’s loose gun laws couldn’t budge lawmakers held in thrall to the gun lobby. 

It was the same story a little over a dozen years later, when 20 small children and six adults died in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. By then, mass shootings were becoming more common, but this one was uniquely soul-searing. Many assumed the country would finally stop the insanity and impose reasonable restrictions on weapons of war in civilian hands. It didn’t. 

The rare has become common. In each of the past three years there have been, nationally, more than 600 mass shootings (defined as four victims or more), many of them in schools. This year has seen 200 so far. 

In fact, school shootings have become so common that there have been multiple recent reports of the same young people surviving two of them, years and miles apart. 

That phenomenon, as much as any other, might finally move the needle. 

As Politico reported earlier this month, several recent polls have confirmed that young conservatives as a whole don’t share their older counterparts’ stubborn opposition to gun restrictions. A Harvard poll in the spring found a majority of young conservatives favored mandatory psychological examinations as a condition of purchasing guns. A separate YouGov poll in March showed millennial and Gen Z Republicans are open to more gun restrictions generally and that support has grown. 

As the chairman of the Texas Young Republican Federation told the website: “There are some concerns from Gen Z voters specifically, mainly because they’ve had to deal with it more growing up ….”  

It’s telling that prominent conservatives can acknowledge such a disturbing fact while still maintaining the party’s unreasonable refusal to even discuss reforms like limits on high-capacity magazines, red-flag laws and universal background checks. That’s how thoroughly the party, and too much of the country, has come to view these horrors as inevitable. 

They aren’t. And the fact many young conservatives seem to understand that provides a glimmer of hope for the future. 

This editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.