"Guns." "Gun laws." "Mass shootings." These are phrases uttered by Democrats on Capitol Hill at much higher rates than Republicans over the past few years.
That's according to a comparison using the Sunlight Foundation's Capitol Words tool, which searches for public comments made by members of Congress. Here are some searches we did for common phrases in the gun debate used on Capitol Hill between 2011 and today:
Democrats are more than 10 times as likely to cite "mass shootings" and nine times as likely to cite "gun laws." They also talk about "guns" twice as often.
Democrats also talk about mental health issues at a higher rate than Republicans. (Note: That could be in a variety of contexts, but one of them is most certainly gun control.)
This trend has held over time. Here's a Capitol Words search for "gun laws" dating to 1996. Democrats have been much more likely to say it over time than Republicans — accounting for about 70 percent of mentions.
It's no secret that Democrats are much bigger advocates for gun control laws than Republicans, which explains part of the reason they talk more about guns. Democrats think there are too many loopholes in gun laws that lead to mass shootings like the one that killed 14 in San Bernardino, Calif., on Wednesday. Republicans argue that restricting Americans' rights to guns is unconstitutional and/or not the answer to stopping mass shootings. Many Republicans and Americans in general believe more guns is the answer.
But although it's understandable that Democrats talk about "guns" more, it's also notable that they talk more about mass shootings and mental health in general. That suggests an imbalance in just how much lawmakers believe any kind of legislation is needed or is capable of addressing the problem — not just whether they believe in the idea of more gun control.
As evidenced by the lack of gun control legislation making its way through Congress these days, Republicans and gun-rights supporters have largely won that argument in Washington. And whether a result of that or because of it, it seems Republicans just don't need feel the need to talk about gun control and gun rights.
As such, the conventional wisdom in Washington is that Democrats aren't optimistic about getting their gun control priorities into law. That may well be. In an interview Thursday morning with MSNBC, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) urged his Republican colleagues to move on some kind of legislation after San Bernardino — not even necessarily gun control.
"We have time to take at least one step forward, either on mental health or on guns, to try to make a difference," he said. "Or at least to show people we are trying to make a difference."
But that doesn't mean Democrats have stopped talking about it.
Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has been particularly vocal of late — a powerful ally for the gun control group. He is pushing for a (symbolic) vote Thursday on a gun control amendment while sending tweets such as this:
Still, if the history of words used on Capitol Hill tells us anything about the gun debate, it's that talking about these issues doesn't always equate with doing something about them.