By Paul Helmke
If Democrats want to know what women want this election season, I encourage their campaign gurus to start talking about an issue that has strong consistent support from women of all ages, races, and locations: gun control.
Recent stories and surveys have highlighted the apparent narrowing of the “gender gap,” which used to give Democratic candidates a significant percentage of the votes from women.
According to The Washington Post, female voters “are now about evenly split,” something that has led Democratic campaigns to release a “torrent of gender-based ads” on topics such as “legalized abortion and other women’s health issues.
On Friday, the Obama administration issued a 26-page report that highlights dozens of policies that it claims have “promoted women’s economic security.”
But the White House appears to have overlooked the widespread support from women for policies that increase security from gun violence for their families and communities.
When the Brady Campaign had Lake Research Partners do a national poll in late April about people carrying loaded guns in public, they found that 76 percent of women of color, 68 percent of urban women and also older women, 59 percent of suburban women, 55 percent of younger women, and a majority of rural women opposed the open carrying in public of guns.
The same poll found that 63 percent of women said they were less likely to vote for a candidate for elected office who wanted to make it easier for people to carry loaded guns openly in public (with only 18 percent saying it would make them more likely to vote for such a candidate).
According to Lake Research Partners, the gender gap on whether allowing guns to be openly carried in public makes people feel more or less safe “is one of the largest divides seen on current issues.”
Similarly, a poll done of voters nationwide for the Brady Campaign by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc. in the November 2008 election found that 83 percent of female voters supported “the passage of laws placing reasonable restrictions on guns” (something that 68 percent of male voters supported). Eighty six percent of women supported criminal background checks on all gun sales (79 percent of men supported this).
Women voters’ desires for tighter restrictions don’t stop there. Seventy three percent of women (and 63 percent of men) supported registration and licensing of gun owners. Seventy percent of women (60 percent of men) supported restrictions on military-style assault weapons). Sixty seven percent of women (63 percent of men) supported a waiting period of five days for handgun sales. And, 60 percent of women (46 percent of men) supported limiting the number of guns that can be bought at one time.
With more than 100,000 getting shot or killed by guns each year in this country, voters – particularly women voters – are looking for candidates who will work to reduce gun violence. Since the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that near-total gun bans are off the table, now is the time for candidates to propose and support common sense restrictions that make it harder for dangerous people to guns. This would be good policy – and good politics — particularly for those seeking to widen the “gender gap.”