By Christopher Poliquin
Calls for new gun legislation that previously failed to pass Congress are being raised again after the May 24, 2022, mass shooting at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas.
An 18-year-old shooter killed at least 19 fourth grade students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, marking the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in a decade.
The U.S. has been here before – after shootings in Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Charleston, Roseburg, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, El Paso, Boulder, and 10 days earlier at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y.
Gun production and sales in the U.S. remain high, following a purchasing surge during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the firearms industry sold about six guns for every 100 Americans.
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut was among the Democratic politicians who pleaded for action on gun control as horrifying details of the Uvalde school shooting unfolded.
“What are we doing?” Murphy asked other lawmakers, speaking from the Senate floor on the day of the shooting. “Why are you here if not to solve a problem as existential as this?”
Congress has declined to pass significant new gun legislation after dozens of shootings, including those that occurred during periods like this one, with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, Senate and presidency.
This response may seem puzzling given that national opinion polls reveal extensive support for several gun control policies, including expanding background checks and banning assault weapons.
In October 2021, 52% of people polled by Gallup said that they thought firearm sales laws should be made more strict.
But polls do not determine policy.
I am a professor of strategy at UCLA and have researched gun policy. With my co-authors at Harvard University, I’ve studied how gun laws change following mass shootings.
Our research on this topic finds there is legislative activity following these tragedies, but it’s at the state level.
Stricter gun laws at the national level are more popular among Democrats than Republicans, and major new legislation would likely need votes from at least 10 Republican senators. Many of these senators represent constituencies opposed to gun control.
Despite national polls showing majority support for an assault weapons ban, not one of the 30 states with a Republican-controlled legislature has such a policy.
U.S. Texas Senator Ted Cruz said on May 24 that more gun control laws could not have prevented the Uvalde attack, explaining “that doesn’t work, it’s not effective, it doesn’t prevent crime.”
The absence of strict control policies in Republican-controlled states shows that senators crossing party lines to support gun control would be out of step with the views of voters whose support they need to win elections.
But a lack of action from Congress doesn’t mean gun laws are stagnant after mass shootings.
To examine how policy changes, we assembled data on shootings and gun legislation in the 50 states between 1990 and 2014. Overall, we identified more than 20,000 firearm bills and nearly 3,200 enacted laws. Some of these loosened gun restrictions, others tightened them, and still others did neither or both – that is, tightened in some dimensions but loosened in others.
We then compared gun laws before and after mass shootings in states where mass shootings occurred, relative to all other states.
Contrary to the view that nothing changes, state legislatures consider 15% more firearm bills the year after a mass shooting. Deadlier shootings – which receive more media attention – have larger effects.
In fact, mass shootings have a greater influence on lawmakers than other homicides, even though they account for less than 1% of gun deaths in the United States.
As impressive as this 15% increase in gun bills may sound, gun legislation can reduce gun violence only if it becomes law. And when it comes to enacting these bills into law, our research found that mass shootings do not regularly cause lawmakers to tighten gun restrictions.
In fact, we found the opposite. Republican state legislatures pass significantly more gun laws that loosen restrictions on firearms after mass shootings.
In 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a new law that eliminated a requirement for Texans to obtain a license or receive training to carry handguns. This came two years after a 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.
That’s not to say Democrats never tighten gun laws – there are prominent examples of Democratic-controlled states passing new legislation following mass shootings.
California, for example, enacted several new gun laws following a 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino. Our research shows, however, that Democrats don’t tighten gun laws more than usual following mass shootings.
After the Buffalo shooting in early May 2022, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said that she would work to increase the age for legal gun purchasing from 18 to 21 “at a minimum.”
Ideology governs response
The contrasting response from Democrats and Republicans is indicative of different philosophies regarding the causes of gun violence and the best ways to reduce deaths.
While Democrats tend to view social factors as contributing to violence, Republicans are more likely to blame the individual shooters.
Cruz, for example, has said that stopping individuals with criminal records from committing violence could help prevent mass shootings.
Politicians favoring looser restrictions on guns following mass shootings frequently argue that more people carrying guns would allow law-abiding citizens to stop perpetrators.
In fact, gun sales often surge after mass shootings, in part because people fear being victimized.
Democrats, in contrast, typically focus more on trying to solve policy and societal problems that contribute to gun violence.
For both sides, mass shootings are an opportunity to propose bills consistent with their ideology.
Since we wrote our study of gun legislation following mass shootings, which covered the period through 2014, several additional tragedies have energized the gun control movement that emerged following the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. These include the May 2022 shooting at the Tops grocery store in Buffalo, as well as the Uvalde school massacre.
While President Joe Biden issued executive orders in 2021 with the goal of reducing gun violence, action in Congress remains elusive. States, meanwhile, have been more active on the issue.
Student activism following the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, did not result in congressional action but led several states to pass new gun control laws.
With more funding and better organization, this new movement is better positioned than prior gun control movements to advocate for stricter gun policies following mass shootings. Public outcry and devastation over the Uvalde shootings will likely provide fuel to this advocacy work.
But with states historically more active than Congress on the issue of guns, both advocates and opponents of new restrictions should look beyond Washington for action on gun policy.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on March 21, 2021. This article was updated to indicate there were 10 days between the Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas shootings.
Christopher Poliquin is Assistant Professor of Strategy at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
Chicago has one of the strictest gun laws and look at how many people are getting shot and killed in 1 weekend.
Being from Northern Indiana I know geography. Just East of Chicago is Gary, Indiana; East Chicago, Indiana; Hammond, Indiana; etc. Many of the guns used in Chicago are purchased in Hoosier State gun shops (and there are a plethora of them in Northwest Indiana) and transported across the Skyway Bridge, etc. into Chicago. Lax Indiana gun laws make it easy to take a 30 minute car ride to buy and bring weapons of war into Chicago.
Bill C says
Look at how many people get killed in car accidents. Therefore driver’s licenses and speed limits are pointless and there is no need for them.
Jack Howell says
This is one stupid comment!
Pierre Tristam says
Jack, knowing Bill C’s long history of comments, I’m almost certain he was being sarcastic, reflecting the stupid–no, the dumbass–no, the astonishingly backward–no, the amorality of the thinking on guns in our so-called culture. Still understated. But you get my drift.
Bill C says
Yes, Pierre, it was definitely a sarcastic comment, a lampoon of pro gun logic.
Just as many as Florida !!! Florida had 3,048 last year
Think of it this way: you live in Flagler County and if we severely restricted gun possession here in this county, but in Volusia, Putnam, Duvall, Marion and other nearby counties as well as all of GA there were no such restrictions and guns are being brought into Flagler from these surrounding areas, our own efforts, as worthy as they may be, would be seriously hampered. That is exactly what is happening in Chicago and many other so-called “blue” cities and states where Republicans just love to bash their crime stats while ignoring, or in many cases openly supporting easing of gun restrictions knowing full well they are making crime rates go up in nearby cities. I am even to the point now that I believe it is a GOP goal to continue to ease gun laws and make crime go up, make the murder rates increase just for political talking points and election gains, which is despicable, immoral and downright dishonest. Please try to prove me wrong.
Deborah Coffey says
Apparently, Americans are willing to accept the murders of their children for a GREATER GOOD…more GUNS. We must be willing because we keep voting for the same people pushing more guns on the American populace.
There is plenty of blame to go around. First, I blame the gun companies. When Obama was elected, who benefited? Gun companies, big time. People were convinced he would take their guns away. Didn’t happen. When we have mass shootings, who benefits? Gun companies again. When we legislate, who benefits? You guessed it.
Big companies run our country. People are upset with the mask mandates, and I don’t blame them. But they are fine with seat belts, and insurance mandates. Even the local news reports about whether accident victims were wearing seat belts or not. Who pushes through this legislation? Insurance companies.
Next, I blame social media and *news* media. Much of it is more than happy to pollute already vulnerable minds as long as it gets desired ratings. Look at Fox, Info Wars, Carlson, etc. Highly irresponsible media. Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley must be rolling in their graves. So sad, the crap that’s being spewed now.
Also, I blame the politicians. What a serious group of selfish people! People who are scared to explain the truth to their constituents as they may lose a damned job. Personally, I think Cruz is a nit wit. In all fairness, there are plenty of them to go around too.
Samuel L. Bronkowitz says
We need police out of the schools and we need active shooter drills over with. Neither are worthwhile.
Wait till Death-santis signs the Constitutional Carry law. It will enable almost everyone to open carry without a background check. Make sure not to get into an argument because all the wannabe cops will be packing!!!!!
The Geode says
Most of the people committing “gun crimes” can give two shits about your background checks. They already have guns. Besides, I can buy a gun anytime I want and the ONLY “check” that will happen is the seller holding the bill up to the light to check for the hologram…
Cyrus Buelton says
Re: Constitutional Carry
It is not my intention to change your viewpoint or say whether it is right or wrong.
However, logically look at these “Constitutional Carry” laws as you will see they are nothing but smoke and mirrors, bullshit to appeal to Republican voters. Several states have moved to permitless CCW and you will see it didn’t change much of anything.
Personally, I’ve possessed a CCW in three different states over various times during the last 20 years based on where I was living.
I grew up in state which didn’t require any courses or training to get a CCW and you only had to be 19. Next state required a weekend of classes and some range time.
Although it was extremely boring, I did see the value in it for new gun owners, so I think going to Constitutional Carry is really unnecessary.
But I’m not entirely against it since at the end of the day, nothing will change. Except for the Department of Agricultural to track the number of CCW permits issued [note: I could careless whether they do or don’t. It doesn’t mean a whole lot] and to generate some review.
If a person is going to carry a concealed firearm, they will do that regardless of the legality. They don’t carry about laws.
However, law abiding citizens don’t typically do this as they fear potential repercussions, so they will take the class and pay for the permit, which they can legally get.
So the million dollar question:
If an individual is a restricted person from owning or possessing a firearm, what would this law do to change their decision to carry one or not?
If they applied, the permit would be denied. No legal carry.
Constitutional Carry passes. Individual still can’t legally carry.
If this person decides to carry a concealed firearm, how did either version of the CCW laws make it any worse?
It didn’t. It stayed the same.
Again, I could careless about these so-called permitless carry laws and have no issues or problems with having to possess a permit and in fact said I’m not a huge fan.
But for those who oppose these laws, don’t get sucked into the Republican Vortex of misinformation.
It’s nothing more than a kickback to keep Republican voters voting for them.
It’s kind of sad people don’t see they are being used passing bullshit legislation and claiming it to be a victory.
One of the many reasons I’m now registered as an Independent and no longer a Republican.
Why is it that Republican lawmakers will bend over backwards and do virtually anything to protect an unborn fetus, and yet at the same time they sit on their hands and repeatedly, repeatedly do NOTHING to prevent the ongoing slaughter of America’s innocent school children by gunmen (usually other teenaged school children) in possession of assault rifles??? These unprincipled, immoral so-called “leaders” mimic the talking points of the NRA and gun lobby, they gladly rake in millions of blood $$$ from these groups, and then they want all of us in America to have a simple moment of silence for the latest dead children while they disgustingly bow their heads and repeat the tired phrase “thoughts and prayers” and then go about their business and collect more blood $$$ and attend NRA conventions, which by the way, is where TX Gov. Abbott went after giving his news conference after the Uvalde school mass murder where 19 school children and 2 teachers were slaughtered by an 18 year old teen who had just bought 2 AR-15 assault rifles, 7 thirty round high capacity magazines and over 300 rounds of ammo that he took to the elementary school with him. Please donate to Everytown.org and help STOP this madness.
Why is it that Republican lawmakers will bend over backwards and do virtually anything to protect an unborn fetus, and yet at the same time they sit on their hands and repeatedly, repeatedly do NOTHING to prevent the ongoing slaughter of America’s innocent school children by gunmen (usually other teenaged school children) in possession of assault rifles??? These unprincipled, immoral so-called “leaders” mimic the talking points of the NRA and gun lobby, they gladly rake in millions of blood $$$ from these groups, and then they want all of us in America to have a simple moment of silence for the latest dead children while they disgustingly bow their heads and repeat the tired phrase “thoughts and prayers” and then go about their business and collect more blood $$$ and attend NRA conventions, which by the way, is where TX Gov. Abbott was going after giving his news conference after the Uvalde school mass murder where 19 school children and 2 teachers were slaughtered by an 18 year old teen who had just bought 2 AR-15 assault rifles, 7 thirty round high capacity magazines and over 300 rounds of ammo that he took to the elementary school with him. Please donate to Everytown.org and help STOP this madness.
The Geode says
There are more guns than people in the US and even if they stopped making them tomorrow won’t change the fact that the people who want to use a gun – already have them. I just find it odd that these two particular incidents merit all this attention when this shit happens in black communities DAILY! On any given weekend, there are SEVERAL “mass shootings” and I have yet to see it on CNN. NOW you want to bloviate about black people being killed? Where were you yesterday? Last week? Last month? Last year? I forgot, we only count when we are the perceived “victims” and you get to elicit your false sympathy towards your pets…
I’m all for the 2nd Amendment, not the convoluted one the NRA spews and RepubliCons have their hands out to accept blood money through it. It’s way pass time for common sense gun laws to be passed, background checks would be a first step. Should the mentally incompetent person down the street have the right to own a gun, a question all law abiding gun owners should ask themselves.