The recent deadly shooting at an Oregon community college, like so many before it, isn’t likely to lead to new federal laws designed to curb dangerous people’s access to guns. While this understandably frustrates supporters of gun safety legislation, there is reason for them to be hopeful. The National Rifle Association’s days of being a political powerhouse may be numbered.
Why? The answer is in the numbers.
Support for, and opposition to, gun control is closely associated with several demographic characteristics, including race, education and whether one lives in a city. Nearly all are trending forcefully against the NRA.
The core of the NRA’s support comes from white, rural and relatively less educated voters. This demographic is currently influential in politics but clearly on the wane. While the decline of white, rural, less educated Americans is generally well known, less often recognized is what this means for gun legislation.
Polls show that whites tend to favor gun rights over gun control by a significant margin (57 percent to 40 percent). Yet whites, who comprise 63 percent of the population today, won’t be in the majority for long. Racial minorities are soon to be a majority, and they are the nation’s strongest supporters of strict gun laws.
Rural Americans tend to oppose gun control, with 63 percent saying that gun rights are more important than gun control. The country, however, is becoming less rural and more urban. Recent years have witnessed a significant increase in the number of people living in cities, with big metropolitan areas experiencing double-digit growth.
Support for gun control is correlated, too, with levels of education. Gun rights are favored by a slim majority of those who attended only high school (50 percent to 47 percent). Among those with a college degree, however, 58 percent favor gun control, compared with 38 percent for gun rights. This demographic is also trending in a favorable direction for gun control advocates. Between 2002 and 2012, enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 24 percent.
Of course, the NRA will continue to fight, and fight hard, against gun control. But the heart of the organization’s power is the voters it can turn out to vote, and they are likely to decline in number. Unless the organization begins to soften its no-compromises stance on gun safety legislation, it’s likely to become increasingly marginalized in a changing America.
Winkler is a professor at UCLA School of Law.