After Newtown, A Return to the Gun Control Debate?

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Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut – 27 dead at an elementary school, including 20 children (at this writing) – will almost certainly reignite the debate about gun control in America. It was the second such event in the United States in since this summer and the shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 dead.

But sudden movement on gun control may not be likely.

In the wake of the Colorado tragedy, Patchwork Nation noted that gun control was unlikely to gain traction in the presidential campaign because of the ambivalence toward the issue in the electorate. Even in the influential and heavily-populated Monied Burb counties, the voters were essentially split, slightly favoring “gun freedom,” according to an April Pew Research poll.

Here’s an excerpt of that post and the numbers by county type:

In April, the Pew Research Center in a poll asked which was more important, "to protect the right of Americans to own guns, or to control gun ownership?" Patchwork Nation analyzed those responses using our 12 county types and found that only three leaned toward the idea of controlling ownership. The rest, including the important swing-voting Monied Burbs, aligned behind protecting the rights of gun owners.

What do you think is more important - to protect the right of Americans to own guns, OR to control gun ownership?

Community Type

Favors Gun Freedom

Favors Gun Control

Monied 'Burbs

49.9

43.2

Minority Central

56.6

36.5

Evangelical Epicenters

66.3

29.3

Tractor Country

69.4

18.9

Campus and Careers

46.3

51.1

Immigration Nation

43.4

53.1

Industrial Metropolis

31.8

65.2

Boom Towns

54

39.6

Service Worker Centers

53.2

38.4

Emptying Nests

56.3

37.1

Military Bastions

56.2

38

Mormon Outposts

70.9

8.8

That prediction proved to be accurate as both President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney never really engaged on the issue – at least not in a way where they debated the gun control in a significant way. The question after Friday’s shooting is whether the numbers above are poised to move in new polling.

The attack in Newtown is significant in a few very important ways.

First, the shooting site was not a movie theater or a restaurant, it was an elementary school. It’s not the kind of place where one can easily argue that concealed weapons could be a deterrent and not the kind of place where fixes like metal detectors are likely to happily embraced.

Second, there is the nature of Newtown itself – it is a true Monied Burb. The median household income in over $100,000 and it sits in wealthy Fairfield County. It’s a small town lined with leafy streets and nice homes. It is, in other words, the kind of place where events like Friday’s shooting aren’t “supposed to happen.”

Fairfield County is on the map below in the bottom left corner of Connecticut.

President Obama weighed in quickly and emotionally on the shootings and said the country had been “through this too many times.” He also said the country would have to come together and “take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this regardless of the politics.”

He stopped short of proposing anything new. It was too early for that. But the question of what comes next may hinge to a great extent on whether the shootings in Newtown are somehow seen as different by a country that has seemed uninterested in strengthening gun control laws in the recent past.