Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

Is this time different? With Congress returning Monday, the New York Times reports that there are reasons to believe lawmakers are under unusually intense pressure to act on gun violence, because the unusually horrific nature of the Florida massacre may have shifted the landscape more than previous shootings have.

But at the same time, GOP operatives tell the Washington Examiner that nothing may happen once again — mainly because GOP lawmakers fear primary challenges from the right if they dare support any new measures. This is a familiar refrain: We’re always told that majority sentiment for action is negated by the “intensity” of those gun-rights voters who organize and vote on this issue alone.

But it may be time to retire this narrative, or at least ask whether things really are finally changing on this front, as a new CNN poll strongly suggests.

The poll finds that a majority of Americans strongly support action and vastly outnumber those who strongly oppose action. It finds that 69 percent of Americans favor “stricter gun control laws,” and 52 percent do so “strongly.” Meanwhile, only 26 percent oppose them, with only 14 percent doing so strongly.

The poll’s demographic breakdown further tells the story. The gun debate is marked by a deep cultural divide. One one side are aging, rural, non-college-educated and evangelical Christian white voters who are more inclined to be gun owners. On the other side are younger, urban and suburban, secular, college-educated whites, especially women, who are less likely to own guns. The gun-owning camp, we regularly hear, is more motivated by the issue.

But the CNN numbers point to something potentially important — an apparent intensity on the issue among that latter set of groups:

  • 63 percent of women strongly favor stricter gun control laws.
  • 62 percent of nonwhites strongly favor them.
  • 76 percent of people who disapprove of Trump strongly favor them.
  • 58 percent of white college graduates strongly favor them.
  • 66 percent of people from non-gun households strongly favor them.

What’s more, the CNN numbers show, counterintuitively, that even among the groups who are supposed to be culturally inclined against action, majorities actually favor action. Crucially, even more of them strongly favor action than strongly oppose it:

  • Non-college-educated whites favor stricter gun control laws by 63 percent to 31 percent; 43 percent of them strongly favor them, while only 17 percent strongly oppose them.
  • Americans over 65 favor stricter gun control laws by 73 percent to 20 percent; 57 percent strongly favor them, while only 10 percent strongly oppose them.
  • People from gun households favor stricter gun control laws by 56 percent to 38 percent; among those people, 38 percent strongly favor them, while only 22 percent strongly oppose them.
  • White evangelical Christians favor stricter gun control laws by 52 percent to 40 percent; 34 percent strongly favor them, while only 22 percent strongly oppose them.
  • Even people who approve of Trump are surprisingly split: Fifty-two percent oppose stricter gun controls, but 41 percent support them.

All of this points to a very deep imbalance in this debate. Those who favor gun reform are constantly told that they must stop blaming and shaming gun culture for the violence, or that they must stop showing disdain for the legitimate civic virtues and values driving that culture. It is true that some on both sides are often viciously, counterproductively disdainful of those on the other. But the basic story here is still fundamentally misleading: It is essentially that, while one side is motivated by adherence to custom and tradition, the other merely suffers from an absence of appreciation and respect for the same — that is, an absence of deeply held beliefs and values of its own.

On this point, the CNN poll is also instructive. It asks respondents whether “government and society can take actions” that will help prevent future shootings. Very large majorities say the answer is yes. This includes large majorities among all the voter groups on the gun reform side of the cultural divide, but it also includes surprisingly large percentages among those on the pro-gun side of the divide — including from gun-owning households. While CNN’s poll was more nuanced on specific solutions that were tested, all this polling suggests that large swaths of the American mainstream believe in general terms that we can, and should, devote more resources and governmental effort to trying to solve this problem, and that if we do, we probably will have some success.

The punditry charging that one side misunderstands and maligns the other usually flows in one direction: The gun-reform side simply doesn’t grasp, or actively disdains, what really makes the gun-rights side tick. But we hear very little condemnation in the other direction of the constant screams of “gun grabber!” directed at those who believe this problem can be mitigated with appropriate action. We need a much more forthright acknowledgement in this debate of just how mainstream the latter position really is. It is not just widely held but also represents a set of legitimate values in its own right, and these, too, are strongly held — despite the pretension that only one side’s cultural sensitivities must be treated with great care and delicacy, which is its own form of condescension toward those sensitivities.

Of course, we still don’t know whether this rising intensity on the gun reform side will actually matter, either in terms of getting Congress to act or in terms of affecting the midterm elections. It is on gun reformers to make it so.

* TRUMP’S APPROVAL IS BACK IN THE TOILET: The new CNN poll also finds that Trump’s approval rating has slid to 35 percent, matching the lowest point in his presidency, and trailing previous presidents by double digits:

His current rating stands 12 points behind the previous low mark of 47% set by both Ronald Reagan at this point in 1982 and by Jimmy Carter in early 1978. Barack Obama was the only other modern president to hold an approval rating below 50% at this point in his presidency (49% approved).

And Trump’s approval stands at a whopping 29 percent among women, something that could have a real impact in the midterms.

* TRUMP’S LAWYERS LOOK TO AVOID MUELLER: The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump’s lawyers are trying to limit special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s questioning of Trump, possibly with written-only responses:

Trump’s lawyers are considering ways for him to testify … provided the questions he faces are limited in scope and don’t test his recollections in ways they say could unfairly trap him into perjuring himself. … If Mr. Trump’s legal team offers an interview under specific terms, it is unclear whether Mr. Mueller would agree.

Don’t buy this “perjury trap” spin. It’s more likely that the real fear is that Trump will try to get away with lying because he has serious misconduct to hide.

* REPUBLICANS SHRUG ABOUT TRUMP’S FINANCES: CNN reports that Republicans on the committees investigating Russian interference see little reason to heed Democratic demands for a look at Trump’s finances and/or any such ties to Russia:

Six Republican leaders of key committees told CNN they see little reason to pursue those lines of inquiry or made no commitments to do so. … Republicans have resisted calls to issue subpoenas for bank records, seeking Trump’s tax returns or sending letters to witnesses to determine whether there were any Trump financial links to Russian actors — calling the push nothing more than a Democratic fishing expedition.

Well, after all, Trump did say that examining his finances would be a red line, so why wouldn’t congressional Republicans charged with running oversight efforts respect that?

* CONSERVATIVE GROUPS WANT TO CRIPPLE PUBLIC UNIONS: The Supreme Court on Monday hears a case that could cripple public-sector unions, and the New York Times reports that a web of conservative groups is behind the effort. One study explains why:

It found that the Democratic share of the presidential vote dropped by an average of 3.5 percentage points after the passage of so-called right-to-work laws allowing employees to avoid paying union fees. That is larger than Democrats’ margin of defeat in several states that could have reversed their last three presidential losses.

This presents another way in which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s seizure of a court seat could have a long-term impact.

* BROAD SUPPORT FOR ACTION ON GUNS: Another poll, this one from USA Today/Suffolk University, also finds overwhelming majority support for efforts to regulate guns in the wake of the Florida shooting:

By almost 2-1, 61%-33%, they say tightening gun-control laws and background checks would prevent more mass shootings in the United States. By more than 2-1, 63%-29%, they say semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, used by the Florida shooter, should be banned.

Which lends more support to the notion that the mainstream position is on the side of action.

* TRUMP WANTS TO TALK TO GOVERNORS ABOUT GUNS: The nation’s governors are in town, and the president wants to talk to them about the Florida shooting:

Trump’s session with the governors will be the latest in which he solicits ideas for stopping gun violence at schools as the White House works to finalize an expected legislative proposal. … Trump has floated numerous ideas since the shooting, including raising the minimum age for the purchase of assault-style weapons, improving background checks for gun purchases, arming educators and paying them bonuses, and re-opening mental institutions.

It should be interesting to hear what Republican governors have to say about Trump’s call for arming more teachers.

* AND THE FAR RIGHT HAS HIJACKED THE GOP: E.J. Dionne makes a great point about the Conservative Political Action Conference’s larger significance:

Before President Trump, it would have been shocking to see Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a leader of the French neo-fascist National Front, appear at the same event with traditional conservatives such as Vice President Pence and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and also with the president of the United States. But thanks to Trump, European-style ethno-nationalism has become so much a part of the movement that Maréchal-Le Pen’s visit seemed almost natural.

Don’t forget Roy Moore! Conservative writer Mona Charen, who had to be escorted out of CPAC after castigating the party over Trump, Moore, and Steve Bannon, writes that her experience shows the whole GOP has been “Trumpified.”