Boston University

Gun Control and Populism by Mae Tonge @ Boston University

There are more mass shootings that occur in the United States than in any other country in the world. The most recent one to occur was the Las Vegas shooting on October 1st, carried out by Stephen Paddock, which killed 58 people and injured over 500. Before that there was the Orlando nightclub shooting last year,  the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, and many, many more.

The repetition of these terrible events have called for an restarted again and again the debate for stricter gun control, and yet barely anything has changed. No new laws have been passed. What’s more, even though 92% of Americans have said they approve of a background check in order to purchase a gun, no new legislation is expected to come through. How is it that the opinions of the American people are so inaccurately reflected in their government?

One answer, among many, could be populism. In his book, What Is Populism?, Müller writes that the core claim of populism is anti-pluralism, this idea that disregards the diverse interests of the population as a whole, and only focuses on one opinion out of the many, and recognises that view as the “one true opinion”, held by the “true people”, whether that opinion or those people are the majority or not. This idea seems to neatly fit into the gun control debate that Americans are facing today.

To put it very mildly, the views on gun control across the American population varies drastically. Some people want background checks, some want to ban the mentally ill from ever buying a gun, some don’t want any gun control at all, and on it goes. But however many views and opinions there are floating out there, only one is officially recognised by those who actually have the power to implement or prevent these changes.

That is not the say that the entire legislative body is in on it, to be sure, efforts have been made to try and represent the American people accurately, most notably Senator Murphy’s (D) 15-hour filibuster last year following the Orlando shooting, in an attempt to get Republicans to agree to discussing and trying to pass legislation that would tighten the gun control laws.

What’s more, one of the most prominent counterarguments to anti-gun laws is that there is no evidence that gun violence can be prevented by stricter gun control. However, the reason there isn’t any evidence is because Republicans have been preventing the CDC from researching the causes of gun violence altogether, thereby further asserting their own position on the subject.

So far, it appears that only the pro-gun view is held as truth in the government. All efforts to achieve some kind of reform has failed. Any attempt to get a gun control bill through Congress never makes it very far. At the end of the day, on this particular issue, only one public view is accepted and recognised, and all the others tactfully ignored.  

Photo by Stephanie Frey, via Washington Monthly.

1 Comment

  1. Molly Winders

    November 8, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    What an interesting post! Your main point that gun control is ignored by the government due to populism is intriguing. I had neither heard of nor thought about the connection between gun rights and populism. While it makes sense in the current system under Trump, which is arguably the most populist president the United States has seen, the connection you draw does not really hold when considering the administrations of Obama, Bush, Clinton, or any other presidents who have been in power during episodes of mass shootings.

    These administrations were not populist, yet stricter gun laws for the most part did not occur. Now, I have not done significant research on this topic, but as far as I understand, gun rights disputes have been occurring for many years and legislation on the topic has been minimal. It may simply be that Trump’s populism is catered to and embraces the faction of society which happens to practically worship guns, and this has contributed to the illusion that there is a larger connection between populism and gun rights than is actually true.

    That being said, there may be a connection between populism and gun control that will surface in the future, as shootings continue to occur and legislation fails to pass. Mental health is being cited as the reason for the most recent shooting in Texas, and legislation on mental health may pass more quickly than legislation concerning gun restrictions. So, in essence, you may be onto something, but I think that only time will tell.

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