Will immigration lead to restrictions on gun rights?

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

That's not Donald Trump's theory—it's the necessary implication of an article by my friend and colleague Adam Winkler, a gun control supporter. That article is called "The NRA will fall. It's inevitable," and subtitled, "Just look at the demographics.":

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 African Americans say that gun control is more important than gun rights (72 percent to 24 percent). While the African American 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.

Now these attitudes might not endure. Gun control used to be much more popular among whites, too; its popularity may likewise fall among other Hispanics and Asians. But it's possible that the numbers won't change; Adam's theory is certainly not implausible. (I should note that the theory likely wouldn't be limited to Hispanic and Asian immigrants: White immigrants from Western Europe and Canada and Australia, I would guess, are also much more likely than other white Americans to support gun controls.)

As I've argued before, when you let in immigrants, you let in your future rulers: They will vote, and they may outvote you, including on questions (gun rights, abortion rights, free speech rights, economic matters, and more) that matter deeply to you. Of course, there may be good reason to dilute one's vote this way, just as there are good reasons for partners to bring on more partners (though that dilutes their votes in the partnership) or for corporate shareholders to issue stock in a way that dilutes the shareholders' votes.

As I've also argued before, America probably needs more immigrants rather than fewer. And, all else being equal, I'd like to give more law-abiding, hardworking people the opportunity that my family and I have been given by America, and that so many millions of others have been given.

But in evaluating the costs and the benefits of immigration, how immigration will change our liberties—by changing the people voting on our liberties—is surely an important question. And this is especially so when the usual devices of assimilation and Americanization (schools, news media, the political parties to which the immigrants are likely to adhere), which may push immigrants to share other Americans' views on many questions, are unlikely to promote gun rights.

Now Adam is a supporter of moderate gun controls; I don't think he would urge, say, Australia- or England-style gun confiscation or prohibition. But Hillary Clinton has cited these countries as models (though her campaign has since denied any such support); so has President Obama. Back in 2000, I gathered a long list of examples of people calling for total handgun bans or even total gun bans (though I haven't updated it since).

I keep hearing people deride gun rights supporters as being "paranoid" for worrying that modest gun controls would just be the prelude for broader gun bans—even though some supporters of broad gun restrictions have expressly supported more modest gun controls precisely as a means of making broader restrictions politically possible. Nobody is coming for your guns, people say. No need to worry about broad gun restrictions in America; they just aren't politically on the table.

But here Adam, a thoughtful liberal observer of the gun debate, reminds us that the politics can change—indeed, as demographics change, politics likely will change. Already today the debate on many issues (such as immigration) has been sharply altered, we are constantly told, by the increase in the number of Hispanic voters.

Adam suggests that the debate will likewise change on gun rights, and his reasoning suggests that it will change more and more as there is more and more immigration. And it may change on many other topics as well, whether having to do with rights, economics, foreign policy, or anything else. It's hard to ignore that effect, it seems to me, in considering the pluses and minuses of massive immigration.

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