Gun Policy and the 2016 Election: A Q&A with government and politics professor Luke Perry
In the wake of recent shooting tragedies, the issue of gun control has once again risen to the media forefront. We turned to Luke Perry, professor of government and politics at Utica College, for some insight:
Q: Throughout his presidency, President Obama has called for stricter gun laws. Do you see gun policy in America changing as a result of the most recents shootings?
A: I don’t think this most recent shooting will make a major difference in regards to gun policy. Unfortunately, America has a serious problem in terms of gun violence, and it’s not one our society is particularly interested in addressing. It has to do with different experiences and attitudes that people have toward guns. Some people see this Charleston situation and say, “Well, he was a mentally ill young man and clearly misguided. The gun wasn’t the problem.” Others are more concerned with making sure that mentally ill people don’t have guns. Everyone would agree this is a horrible thing, but people draw different conclusions about why. At this point, our country is too divided to move forward.
Q: Will gun policy be a “make-or-break” issue in the 2016 election?
A: No. If it was, we would be more likely to see change. The primary process explains why not. In the presidential primary, both parties are catering to more ideological members of their parties, since those are the ones who vote. More ideological republicans are going to be the staunch gun rights advocates. It’s unlikely that any of the candidates will come out and say, “Now is the time for gun reform legislation.” They risk losing those votes.
Q: Do you think gun control will ever become a top issue, similar to the economy or national security?
A: Historical and cultural factors shape what’s a prominent issue. After the Great Recession, the economy is still top concern. And given America’s place in the world right now, being such a world superpower, national security is a priority. I think America’s fondness for firearms is unique in Western civilization. We are an outlier in how we think about guns, how we protect gun rights, and how gun violence is so prominent in our society. A lot of that has to do with the Constitution and how it is wed into American cultural identity. Even in the face of these horrible tragedies, if gun ownership is part of the long-term identity of our country, it’s not something that can easily change.