DP9726 Guns and Votes
Why are U.S. congressmen reluctant to support gun control regulations, despite the fact that most Americans are in favor of them? We argue that re-election motives can lead politicians to take a pro-gun stance against the interests of an apathetic majority of the electorate, but in line with the interests of an intense minority. We develop a model of gun control choices in which incumbent politicians are both office and policy motivated, and voters differ in the direction and intensity of their preferences. We derive conditions under which politicians support gun control early in their terms, but oppose them when they approach re-election. We test the predictions of the model by analyzing votes on gun-related legislation in the U.S. Senate, in which one third of the members are up for re-election every two years. We find that senators are more likely to vote pro gun when they are close to facing re-election, a result which holds comparing both across and within legislators. Only Democratic senators "flip flop" on gun control, and only if the group of pro-gun voters in their constituency is of intermediate size.