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How President Obama changed the gun debate

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The Fix wrote Friday that gun control policy was unlikely to change in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting.

A majority of Americans now oppose more strict restrictions on guns, and tragic — and high profile — shootings have done little impact on those numbers.

What has impacted the numbers in the gun control debate? Interestingly enough, President Obama’s election in 2008.

In both Washington Post and Pew polling, opposition to gun control ticked up significantly after President Obama’s election. Support for gun control has been steadily eroding for years, but these jumps were larger than the changes that occured before and after the election.

From April of 2008 to April of 2009, according to Pew polling, the number of Americans who thought gun control was more important than the right to own guns dropped from 58 percent to 49 percent. In that same time frame, the number of Americans who thought gun rights were more important than gun control rose from 37 percent to 45 percent.

Over Obama’s tenure that trend has continued, so that 49 percent now favor gun rights while 45 percent favor control.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in April of 2007 found that 61 percent of Americans favored stricter gun control laws. By April of 2009, only 51 percent supported such laws.

A Gallup poll taken in October of 2008 found that 49 percent of Americans wanted gun laws to either stay the same or be loosened. A year later, in 2009, 55 percent felt that way.

According to Pew, the biggest shift is among white Americans. From 1993 to 2008, a majority of whites supported gun control over gun rights; now a majority backs gun rights. (Support for gun rights among blacks has also increased.) Independents have also flipped, and Republican support for gun rights has solidified and increased since 2009.

So while Obama has said and done little about gun policy since taking office, his very presence appears to have shifted the debate in favor of gun rights — although that was clearly the direction things were headed prior to his victory.

The “why” of that polling reality is less clear. The National Rifle Association argued in the 2008 election that Obama was “anti-gun.” That aggressive campaign, combined with Obama’s famous comment that some hard-pressed Americans “cling to guns or religion,” may have led some who favored control to believe the current president would go too far and hardened their support for the right to own guns.

Regardless of the reason(s), it’s clear that no politician — up to and including President Obama — will spend an ounce of political capital pushing for stricter gun control measures. The public simply doesn’t want it.

Peyton Craighill contributed to this report.

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