Why gun control is a losing issue in presidential elections – the ugly math

The Associated Press has an article today about how 2019 will likely be a record-breaking year for FBI gun background checks:

By the end of November, more than 25.4 million background checks — generally seen as a strong indicator of gun sales — had been conducted by the FBI, putting 2019 on pace to break the record of 27.5 million set in 2016, the last full year President Barack Obama was in the White House.

On Black Friday alone, the FBI ran 202,465 checks — one every 4.85 seconds.

That’s some Common Core math from the AP. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. If the FBI performed 202,465 background checks in a single day, that equates to a background check every 2.34 seconds (not 4.85). But you get the point. An epic amount of guns were sold on Black Friday.

I had never thought too hard about gun statistics until I happened to have a conversation with a stock market analyst who follows gun manufacturer stocks for an investment company. He explained to me how chatter about gun control actually drives gun purchases way, way up. Technically, politicians have the ability to pull demand for firearms forward. Anyone who is considering buying a gun rushes out to get one and people who weren’t are suddenly very interested in obtaining something they might not be able to purchase later. This is also true for accessories and ammunition. Gun merchants love people like Michael Bloomberg and Beto. Every advertisement Bloomberg drops money on is advertising they don’t have to pay for, and he’s dropping hundreds of millions of dollars on ads railing against guns. So he’s technically increasing their profit margin too.

Now there is some debate about whether FBI background checks is an effective proxy data-wise for gun purchases. Some states, like Kentucky, obtain background checks every time they process a concealed carry permit or a renewal for a concealed carry permit. But that’s not a major data concern, as 16 states now have constitutional carry laws (i.e. no one needs a concealed carry permit to have a firearm on their person; the Second Amendment is your concealed carry permit). If you assume that constitutional carry states overlap with states where there is a high demand for firearms (for myriad cultural and lifestyle reasons), then it should be a small impact.

Like firearms sales, concealed carry permits are also shattering records. There are now nearly 19 million Americans that have concealed carry permits (see link above). Two million of those concealed carry permits are in the presidential election battleground state of Florida alone. Gun control is a pretty easy policy to lose a presidential election over, as it is hard to win an election without Florida, and Florida is even better armed than Texas.

The other reason is that 30% of registered Democrats and left-leaning independents are gun owners. Nearly one-third of African-American households have a gun and over one-fifth of Hispanic households. (Of course, these are only declared guns; the actual numbers are likely higher.) These are not people who hypothetically side with gun ownership politically. These are people who already went out and bought a gun. It’s a personal issue to them.

This is also one area where the Black Lives Matter crowd overlaps with Republicans on a policy issue. Telling a black family that if they are in trouble they should just wait for a benevolent police officer to arrive and save the day is not especially persuasive. Gun confiscation ranks up there with eliminating charter schools as own goals in a Democratic primary. Pretty much the worst candidate you could have with the current electorate is someone who claims to be a moderate but supports hard-line gun control measures. Then you can take out both the progressive base and moderates in terms of enthusiasm.

While there is bipartisan support for some gun control measures (like making it more difficult for people with a mental illness to obtain a firearm), running on strict gun control policies is a good way to lose a substantial portion of your own voters.

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