As an East Coast liberal, statistics are my catnip. I use them both to make sense of the world and as a cudgel to swing at the forces of evil on the battlefield called Facebook. To the victor goes the likes and/or shares. Not long ago I came across a real tasty stat as I was working on a project for Comedy Central, which, since it is a comedy network and I am a comedian, gave me the opportunity to do a comedy special about how to solve America’s gun problem. Naturally.
The sweet stat came courtesy of a group called Americans for Responsible Solutions. They were tracking the efficacy of campaign ads run over the course of a three week period last fall in New Hampshire. They found that amidst a dead-heat senate race in which guns were a hotly debated topic, “the number of voters who know that 9 out of 10 people in New Hampshire support background checks increased from 9 percent to 21 percent.”
These gorgeous numbers called to me. First, because they were flaunting not just one but two stats. Be still, my beating intellect! A before and after look at our political landscape?!? Sign me up and let me listen to science podcasts on my way to progressive heaven (non-denominational).
Second, it spoke to something I had suspected all along. Turns out when it comes to basic, common-sense gun regulations, Americans pretty much agree, and are completely oblivious to that agreement.
Yes, a little over a year ago in quaint New Hampshire, only one tenth of people knew that nine tenths of people support background checks. Even with the ads, the number of folks who actually had perspective was a paltry two in ten. This begs the obvious question – what is wrong with these New Hampshites? Are they too busy scarfing fluffernutter sandwiches underneath covered bridges to actually talk to one another about their political beliefs? And are their views a microcosm of America’s larger gun divide?
The good news here is that it’s surprisingly easy to find common ground. What’s hard, in this moment of constantly hearing how “divided” we are, is realizing that that ground is something we’re already standing on top of.
Lobbying groups like the NRA tend to dominate the discussion and affect significant change with legislation. They’re well-funded, organized and passionate. But get this - they also represent less than 7 percent of gun owners. They are a loud minority, but a minority just the same.
Nationally, 93 percent of people support background checks. Even within the NRA, nearly three out of four members support background checks on all potential gun purchasers. That’s more than the percentage of people who support Bruno Mars. And that guy is a national treasure. Anyway, it’s not just background checks: The majority of Americans support waiting periods, closing the gun show loophole, and creating a federal database to track gun sales. This is good news for those shocked by our country’s inaction on combatting gun violence. The last time I checked, if you’ve got a majority, you’ve got yourself a winning hand (as long as you campaign in Michigan).
Easy. Then this gun debate should be cordial and productive, focusing on constructive policy. So why does it quickly turn into a fear-mongering-cold- dead-handing-live-free-or-die-hard honky tonk? Because so often what we’re talking about when we talk about guns, isn’t guns. We’re really debating things like freedom and patriotism and family and identity. A gun is not just a gun. It’s a symbol. It’s like that old smelly sweatshirt you’ve had since JV tennis. Your wife thinks you should throw it out, it’s a health hazard and it makes you look like “an emaciated Judge Reinhold.” But you’re not actually talking about the sweatshirt. You’re talking about maintaining your sense of masculinity and your connection to a valued past. How else will you remember that junior year make-out session in the JC Penney parking lot? The sweatshirt is a gun and it could ruin your marriage. I’m lost in this metaphor. The point is, talking about guns can be confusing. But it doesn’t always have to be.
Last I checked, knowledge is still legal in this country, and we should really take advantage of it. There is a silent majority in America, speaking at appropriate decibel levels. But when America is faced with a path toward common sense gun reform, I hope we remember our voices. You are not alone. There’s a united chorus of rationality standing behind you. We are the nine in ten.
Jordan Klepper is a correspondent on “The Daily Show.” His special “Jordan Klepper Solves Guns” premieres June 11 on Comedy Central at 10 p.m.