This morning Nate Silver published two charts I found very interesting.
If the news coverage is any guide, there has been a change of tone in recent years in the public conversation about guns. The two-word phrase “gun control” is being used considerably less often than it was 10 or 20 years ago. But the phrase “gun rights” is being used more often. And the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is being invoked more frequently in the discussion.
In the chart below, I’ve tracked the number of news articles that used the terms “gun control,” “gun rights,” “gun violence” and “Second Amendment” in American newspapers, according to the database NewsLibrary.com. (Because the number of articles in the database changes over time, the figures are normalized to reflect the overall volume of database coverage in any given year, with the numbers representing how often the gun-related phrases were used per 1,000 articles on any subject.)
The usage of all four phrases, but particularly the term “gun control,” has been subject to sharp but temporary shifts based on news events.
The second showed five year averages.
As we can see, discussion of gun control has dropped off sharply. Silver points out
The change in rhetoric may reflect the increasing polarization in the debate over gun policy. “Gun control,” a relatively neutral term, has been used less and less often. But more politically charged phrases, like “gun violence” and “gun rights,” have become more common. Those who advocate greater restrictions on gun ownership may have determined that their most persuasive argument is to talk about the consequences of increased access to guns — as opposed to the weedy debate about what rights the Second Amendment may or may not convey to gun owners. For opponents of stricter gun laws, the debate has increasingly become one about Constitutional protections. Certainly, many opponents of gun control measures also argue that efforts to restrict gun ownership could backfire in various ways or will otherwise fail to reduce violence. But broadly speaking, they would prefer that the debate be about what they see as Constitutional rights, rather than the utilitarian consequences of gun control measures.
Their strategy may have been working. The polling evidence suggests that the public has gone from tending to back stricter gun control policies to a more ambiguous position in recent years. There may be some voters who think that the Constitution provides broad latitude to own and carry guns – even if the consequences can sometimes be tragic.
But this morning I heard Representative Carolyn McCarthy say something very interesting when she was talking to Chris Hayes on MSNBC. She wants to call for changes that lead to gun safety not gun control. She wants to add a new term that is less politically loaded to the conversation. She pointed out that the word “control” has negative connotations.
This morning in the Boston Globe, Adrian Walker wrote
By now the sites of tragedies practically roll off our tongues. Columbine. Aurora. Tucson. And now tiny Newtown can be added to this roster of unthinkable, preventable tragedy.
Yes, I said preventable. Every single one of these might have been prevented if getting hold of a gun in this country was as difficult as, say, getting a driver’s license.
Don’t talk to me about the right to bear arms. There is no right to open fire on defenseless children or a congresswoman meeting her constituents or a theater full of moviegoers. Don’t bother trying to tell me that the Founding Fathers intended access to guns as a “right” with almost no limits. That insipid argument is an insult to history, even if a majority of our highest court seems persuaded by it.
Those of us who do not believe that everyone has a right to own and carry a weapon because of the myth of “self-protection” need to step up. To push our congressmen and women, to push our Senators and to push President Obama. We know the statistics: We are up there in gun ownership with Yemen. Should be proud of that? We know that guns kept in cars and homes are often used to kill family members, commit suicide, or in a mistaken effort at self-defense.
I remember seeing an interview after Congresswoman Giffords was shot. The young man said he had been getting coffee and heard shots. He rushed out to find a man on the ground who was being held by another. He had a gun and thought about using it. If he had done so, he would have shot, not the gunman, but the person trying to disarm the shooter.
Let’s work to make owning a gun as difficult as getting a driver’s license. Let’s talk about gun safety the same way we talk about traffic safety or driver safety.
Carolyn McCarthy ran for office after her husband died and her son was injured by a gunman on the Long Island Railroad.