The generational disconnect suggests that broader Republican opposition to gun restrictions will be a constant irritant within a party already struggling to appeal to young voters. It could also challenge White House hopefuls and members of Congress to eventually refine their gun messaging with primary and general election Republican voters, even if youth concerns won’t transform Republican politics overnight. the morning.
“There are some concerns from Gen Z voters specifically, mainly because they have had to deal with it more and more, it has become more rampant in society,” said Joacim Hernandez, president-elect of the Texas Federation of Young Republicans, about gun violence. .
“But at the same time, I really don’t know when or where that conversation will happen within the party,” Hernández said in an interview. «There are still a lot of elected officials and Republicans within the party who don’t think we should have government interference when it comes to owning guns.»
A partisan divide and an age gap in gun restrictions remain deeply entrenched in American politics. Concern over mass shootings tends to rise after high-profile attacks before fading. But access to firearms has been a founding tenet of the Republican Party for decades, and polls show that older Republican primary voters remain some of the strongest supporters of firearms in the country. Furthermore, recent polls of ruby red Texas underscore the complexity of the internal division of the Republican Party.
University of Texas/Texas Policy Project Survey last month found that 64 percent of all Texas Republicans supported raising the age limit for gun purchases and the concept of «red flag» laws that require people determined to be a risk to themselves or for others surrender their firearms. Republicans under the age of 45 tended to support those measures at higher rates than older party supporters, Texas Policy Project Director James Henson said after examining the response data underlying POLITICO’s on-demand survey.
However, Texas lawmakers have considered a series of gun restrictions with little progress. Low voter turnout in the state helps create competitive Republican primaries that invite hopefuls eager to exploit any backlash to liberal-backed gun safety policy. Other political concerns are vying for attention, and Texas conservatives in general tend to blame a wide range of factors for mass shootings, but not guns.
“You can find evidence that younger Republicans seem to be less in favor of gun rights rather than public safety considerations,” Henson said in an interview. “But the difference isn’t that big, and the share of young Republicans is small enough as a share of Republicans overall, that I wouldn’t expect there to be a gun center-of-gravity shift driven by older Republican voters. youths».
Despite the headwinds in Texas, the conservative attitudes of young people appear to be evolving across the country in a way that some Democrats and gun safety advocates see as an opportunity for new policies.
Not only are a significant portion of Republicans expressing support for liberal-aligned gun laws, but politicians are increasingly facing a cohort of young people whose lives have been marked by campus gun attacks and mock shootings on campuses. schools.
“I think the Republicans certainly have a generational problem with guns and other issues,” said John Della Volpe, a millennial and Gen Z voter research specialist who advised President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign.
A national survey of youth ages 18-29 conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics in mid-March it found that 59 percent of young Republicans supported requiring psychological testing for all gun purchases, a version of «red flag» measures largely supported by Democrats.
“The right to feel safe at school, safe in public and safe in your own home is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed if anyone is going to have a conversation with young people in the future,” said Della Volpe, who is also the principal. of polls at the Harvard Political Institute.
“If there is no alignment on the issue that these values are real, that they come from a place central to the life and identity of a generation, then the Republican Party is likely to be a regional party by the time this generation reaches median. age. » he said.
The Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
YouGov’s Social Change Monitor, a biweekly survey of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted between June 2020 and March 2023, found that Gen Z and Republican millennials’ national support for more restrictive gun laws rose to 47 percent in February from 41 percent in August 2022. 32 percent of young Republicans said the Constitution only protects access to guns for militias, more than double the proportion of older Republicans who expressed that belief.
Meanwhile, 36 percent of young GOP supporters in the Harvard poll said gun laws should be stricter than they are now. A combined 27 percent of young Republicans even said they strongly or somewhat supported an assault weapons ban.
“There is a clear generational divide, particularly within the Republican Party,” said Zeenat Yahya, policy director for the gun safety advocacy organization March for Our Lives.
“We are seeing this increase in young Republicans who care much more about this issue; that is completely fair when young people bear the brunt of this problem, as it is the leading cause of death for children and adolescents,” Yahya said. “It really makes it clear, in my opinion, that the Second Amendment is not necessarily the third-rail political issue that politicians think it is.”
And there are signs that the White House sees an opportunity.
Vice President Kamala Harris held a campaign-style rally in a suburban Virginia high school gym on Friday, showing how gun restrictions and young voters will play into Biden’s re-election arguments.
«It’s a false choice to suggest that we have to choose between supporting the Second Amendment and passing reasonable gun safety laws,» Harris said. «We can do both.»
But Texas, the site of what Biden described as the Robb Elementary «death camp» as he commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Uvalde massacre, illustrates the slim chance that young conservatives will change the GOP’s gun policy.
“I think people prefer the safety of being armed,” said Hernández, the young Republican from Texas. «And if at some point, a weaker generation prefers the government to just deal with them, then that will be the case.»