Why do Americans oppose gun control? Irrational fear


Since the end of the 2010 elections, Nate Silver’s blog (unlike mine) has been flowering with thoughtful posts on a wide variety of topics. At the moment, the latest is this post on gun control, showing that fewer Americans support a ban on handguns than did in 1980. Silver considers and rejects the proposition that this support could be tracking to the violent crime rate, noting that said rate has been in decline since the Clinton years. Silver ultimately concludes that the Democrats “surrendered” on the issue of gun control, but cannot come up with a good reason why; as of this post, neither have any of his first 23 commenters.

Thanks to this DougJ post from a couple weeks ago at Balloon Juice, I have an alternate hypothesis. The actual crime rate doesn’t matter; what matters is people’s perceptions of the crime rate. And in every year since Gallup started polling the question in 1989, a plurality of people have believed the crime rate was going up, even when it wasn’t. Most of the time, it’s been by quite crushing margins. In 2010, only 17% of Americans realized that the crime rate was still falling.

I believe this explains, at least in part, why Americans don’t want to ban handguns.


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