The recent deadly shooting at an Oregon community college, like so many before it, isn’t likely to lead to new federal laws designed to curb dangerous people’s access to guns. While this understandably frustrates supporters of gun safety legislation, there is reason for them to be hopeful. The National Rifle Association’s days of being a political powerhouse might be numbered.
Why? The answer is in the numbers.
The core of the NRA’s support comes from white, rural and relatively less educated voters. This demographic is influential in politics but clearly on the wane. While the decline of white, rural, less educated Americans is generally well known, less often recognized is what this means for gun legislation.
Polls show that whites tend to favor gun rights over gun control by a significant margin (57 percent to 40 percent). Yet whites, who comprise 63 percent of the population today, won’t be in the majority for long. Racial minorities are soon to be a majority and they are the nation’s strongest supporters of strict gun laws.
An overwhelming majority of blacks say that gun control is more important than gun rights (72 percent to 24 percent). While the black population shows signs of slow growth, other racial minority groups are growing more rapidly — and report even greater support for gun control.
The fastest-growing minority group in America is Latinos. Between 2000 and 2010, the nation’s Latino population grew by 43 percent.
Hispanics, which make up 17 percent of the population today, are expected to grow to 30 percent of the population in the coming decades.
Gun control is extremely popular among Hispanics, with 75 percent favoring gun safety over gun rights.
Asian Americans also represent a growing anti-gun demographic. Although only about 5 percent of the population today, the Asian American population is predicted to triple over the next few decades. A recent poll of Asian American registered voters found that 80 percent supported stricter gun laws.
After the 2012 election, Republican officials said the party needed to do more to appeal to the growing population of racial minorities. Yet the party’s refusal to bend on gun legislation highlights the difficulty of such efforts. If the GOP compromises on guns to appeal to minorities, it might lose support among its core of white voters.
Rural Americans tend to oppose gun control, with 63 percent saying that gun rights are more important than gun control. The country, however, is becoming less rural and more urban. Recent years have witnessed a significant increase in the number of people living in cities, with big metropolitan areas experiencing double-digit growth.
This shift, like that on race, is a boon for gun control. Urban residents strongly prefer gun control to gun rights (60 percent to 38 percent), for reasons that aren’t hard to understand.
There is one demographic change that helps the NRA. Americans are aging and older people tend to favor gun rights over gun control by a slim margin (48 percent to 47 percent). Yet these numbers aren’t radically different from young people (48 percent to 50 percent), so even an aging population won’t be nearly enough to counter the other, stronger demographic shifts.
Of course, the NRA will continue to fight, and fight hard, against gun control. But the heart of the organization’s power is the voters it can turn out to vote and they are likely to decline in number.
Adam Winkler is a professor at UCLA School of Law and the author of “Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”