The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why gun laws are so hard to pass

Gun owners are far more politically engaged than are those in households without guns, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a chasm that goes a long way toward explaining the seeming disconnect between Congress and the American public when it comes to reforming the country's firearms laws.

One in five gun owners say they've called, written or emailed a public official to express their views on the gun issue. Just one in 10 of those in households without a gun say the same. The disparity is even greater when it comes to making donations to organizations involved in the issue; 19 percent of gun owners say they've given money while just 4 percent in non-gun households say the same.

And, for many of those politically active gun owners, opposition to gun rights is a disqualifying position for a politician. Four in 10 gun activists -- defined as  those who have either contacted a politician or donated money -- would rule out voting for a candidate with whom they disagree on gun policy but with whom they agree on other issues. That compares with just over a quarter of non-gun activists who would rule out a politician who took a position opposite theirs on guns.

All of these numbers illustrate the crux of the divide between public opinion and political action on guns. While majorities of the public support things like expanded background checks, banning or limiting high capacity magazines and reinstituting the assault weapons ban, they -- by and large -- don't feel passionately about any of it.  Those opposed to such measures are smaller in numbers but extremely passionate.

What that means for a politician is this: Voting against gun control measures may well carry less negative political consequence than voting for them -- even though the poll numbers suggest the opposite is true.

Passion is the coin of the realm in understanding voters -- and how politicians react to them. And on guns, the passion is strongly on the side of those who want to keep any new gun laws off the books.