How Will Gun Control Policy Affect Midterm Elections?

Rutgers University

With the midterm elections less than three weeks away, Rutgers experts weigh in on how gun control will be a factor with voters.

Michael Anestis

Executive Director, New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center

Associate Professor, School of Public Health

Gun violence prevention is complicated to discuss during election season. Individuals across the political spectrum hold strong beliefs on opposite ends of a continuum ranging from increasing to eliminating firearm access. One side may say that the any policy aimed at addressing how firearms are accessed or stored is a slippery slope toward overturning the Second Amendment and the other side may say that firearm owners do not care about the safety of themselves or others.

The New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center views the issue of gun violence not through a political lens, but through a lens guided by data. In this election season, we encourage both voters and political candidates to do the same. Addressing gun violence – whether in the form of homicide, suicide, or unintentional shootings – requires that we carefully consider the evidence that various possibilities do – or do not – save lives.

We maintain that policy should be guided by the best available data. We believe that policies should be in place to ensure the timely and rigorous collection of relevant data at a state and national level, thereby facilitating the exact type of work needed to help us evaluate if and how various possible solutions may work. Furthermore, we maintain that voters should consider whether candidates’ positions on gun violence prevention are guided by data as they decide how to cast their votes. Science is our path to effective and apolitical solutions, but we must demand that approach from our elected leaders.

Lisa Miller

Associate Professor, School of Arts and Sciences

Affiliated Professor, Criminal Justice program

Gun violence is an enduring problem in the United States. The past few years have witnessed a spike in gun homicides. Still, even during relatively low violent crime periods, the United States has much higher rates of life-threatening violence than other wealthy democracies. Violent crime has many origins, but the easy availability of firearms is a major reason many Americans are killed yearly. This burden falls disproportionately on low-income people and African Americans, but all Americans are at higher risk in a country awash in firearms.

Gun violence in the United States is a shocking failure of government. Whereas gun safety used to be a bipartisan issue, over the past 40 years, Republican lawmakers have opposed virtually all new gun safety regulations, prohibited effective gun-tracing strategies and rolled back some existing regulations. The argument that more guns will mean more safety is belied by both volumes of research as well as common sense.

A strong majority of Americans want common-sense gun legislation. If voters want to express their outrage at this government failure, they should support candidates who promise to keep up the fight against gun extremists.

Voters should consider whether candidates’ positions on gun violence prevention are guided by data as they decide how to cast their votes.

Michael Anestis

Ashley Koning

Assistant Research Professor, Eagleton Institute of Politics

Director, Rutgers Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling

While gun violence may not be the top issues on voters’ minds this midterm cycle, it is certainly among a select few. In the wake of multiple mass shootings and the Supreme Court’s gun-related ruling last spring, polls show that voters cite gun policies – alongside reproductive rights – as a major issue after the economy and inflation. Large majorities, moreover, view the issue as a problem in the country and important to their vote, as well as want to see gun control reform signed into law; this is especially true among younger voters, like those belonging to Generation Z. The challenge, however, is whether gun control and gun violence can provide enough motivation for young voters – given their historically weaker turnout compared to other age groups – as well as independents and Democrats, to vote.

Partisan differences on gun policies could not be wider – though there are some promising areas of agreement, like mental health – and despite President Biden’s desire to make guns a leading issue this cycle, Republicans have been the ones to prominently feature guns in campaign ads and to address crime.

Gun policies are part of a larger set of social and public health issues in the spotlight this election competing with the hard-hitting effects of inflation, making from now until Election Day a battle of who is the strongest and loudest messenger on these topics and who can best mobilize not only their base but those still undecided and in the middle.

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