News Outlets Ignore Millennials' Skepticism of Gun Control
Youth opinion on firearms is far from monolithic.
The predominant narrative coming out of the Parkland, Florida, shooting is that young people are demanding gun control. The teenaged survivors-turned-activists of Parkland have pushed that angle hard, organizing "March for Our Lives" rallies and student walkouts across the country. But young people's opinions about gun control are much more diverse than that story implies.
Mainstream and left-leaning media outlets have been happy to present the post-Parkland clamor for more gun restrictions as a "youth-led" uprising against their pro-gun elders. "Pit a youth movement for firearms regulation against an aging gun lobby—the kids will ultimately win," declares a headline in today's Los Angeles Times. "Adults marvel at youth-led gun control movement," says The Boston Globe. "Boston teens say it's about time."
CNN ran an article detailing how student activists "led" the Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, downplaying the heavy organizational support they received from adult gun control advocates. Recent survey data show that only 10 percent of rally attendees were under 18 and the average age of the adults present was 49. And while most of the press coverage has implied that young people are overwhelmingly in favor of more gun control, comments from actual young people suggest their views are not quite so monolithic.
Consider a conversation that broke out on the r/news sub-Reddit last night. Below an article mentioning that donations to the National Rifle Association (NRA) had tripled following the Parkland massacre was an explosion of comments that were mostly skeptical of gun control.
"It's insane to me that the biggest push for gun reform is happening under this administration," reads one the most popular comments. "If ever we needed an example on why the Bill of Rights is so important, this is it."
That comment was followed by a bunch of self-declared left-leaners saying they were more than fine with gun rights. "I'm a liberal and I think it's a natural right to be able to defend oneself," said one commenter. Said another, "I identify as a social democrat and even I enjoy gun sports and believe people should have access to them."
I don't know the ages of these people. But given that 58 percent of Reddit users are in the 18-to-29 bracket, it's fair to assume the commenters in this thread skew young.
That impression is supported by public opinion surveys finding that millennials are the age group least in favor of gun control. A 2015 Pew poll* found that only 49 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds favored an "assault weapons" ban, compared to 55 percent of those aged 30 to 49 and 63 percent of those 65 or older. A March 6 Quinnipiac poll, taken several weeks after the Parkland shooting, found that only 46 percent of 18-to-34 year olds support an assault weapons ban, rising to 51 percent for those aged 35 to 49, 68 percent for those aged 50-to-64, and 80 percent for those over 65.
Pro-gun youngsters are not limited to Reddit. Sixteen-year-old sport shooting champion Cheyenne Dalton—a self-described "shooter, musician, good kid"—has a Twitter feed with 630 followers that mixes trick shot videos, gun safety tips, and retweets of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch.
Millennials who support the Second Amendment are themselves surprised at the pro-gun leanings of their peers. When an NPR reporter cited polling data indicating that young people tend to be skeptical of gun control, 19-year-old gun rights activist Abigail Kaye responded, "That's surprising, because I feel like we're a more progressive generation…We've grown up more, I think, with this kind of gun violence, so you'd think maybe we'd push for more regulations."
No wonder she's surprised. Contrary to the impression left by most of the press coverage, the gun control battle is being fought within generational cohorts, not just between them.
This post has been updated to include the more recent Quinnipiac poll numbers.
CORRECTION: The original version of this post said the referenced Pew poll was conducted in 2017, when it was actually conducted in 2015.