The paradox of American gun control got deeper Wednesday. Or, at least it appeared to.
On the surface, the poll released by The Washington Post and Pew Research Center made no sense. Only 47 percent of respondents said they were "disappointed" or "angry" that the Senate last week failed to advance a bill to expand background checks to gun shows and online sales.
Yet in February, a Pew poll found that 83 percent of respondents supported an expansion of background checks to cover gun shows and all private sales Ė measures that would actually be stricter than what the Senate rejected.
So what gives? If Americans overwhelmingly support strict background checks, why aren't they angrier that the Senate failed to pass even moderate background checks? How could 39 percent be "happy" or "relieved" by the result? Where is the outrage to which President Obama was appealing when he called the Senate vote "a pretty shameful day for Washington"?
There are, perhaps, clues in the poll itself, which suggests that the forces against the bill were more motivated than those supporting the bill. Americans might also have come to the conclusion that the bill wouldn't do much.
But the real takeaway, some say, is that the gun control debate played into the broader narrative of America's enduring libertarian streak. As with the legalization of marijuana, the spread of same-sex marriage, and the fresh possibility of comprehensive immigration reform, the common thread is that, in many cases, Americans are loath to tell their neighbors what to do.
ďAmericans do have a certain live-and-let-live attitude, and guns are a good illustration,Ē says Robert Spitzer, author of ďThe Politics of Gun Control.ĒďThatís why youíve never gotten a majority of Americans who favor an outright ban on handguns. Thatís not because most Americans own guns, or even handguns, but there is a certain attitude that,ĎLook, Iím not a gun owner, I donít like guns around, but if someone else wants to own a gun, Iím not going to insist that ought to be somehow restricted.í Thereís sympathy for that brand of libertarianism in American politics; itís not real libertarianism, itís libertarian lite.Ē