High school students across the United States have been leading the call for more gun control since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Some have called them the “voice of a generation on gun control” that may be able to turn the tide of a long-simmering debate.
But past polling suggests that people younger than 30 in the U.S. are no more liberal on gun control than their parents or grandparents — despite diverging from their elders on the legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage and other social issues.
“Sometimes people surprise us, and this is one of those instances that we don’t know why,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup.
Over the past three years, his polling organization asked the under-30 crowd whether gun laws in the U.S. should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are now. On average, people between the ages of 18 and 29 were 1 percentage point more likely to say gun laws should be more strict than the overall national average of 57 percent.
“Young people statistically aren’t that much different than anybody else,” Newport says.
‘What a whole generation feels’?
Polling by the Pew Research Center last year came to similar conclusions: 50 percent of millennials, between the ages of 18 and 36, said gun laws in the U.S. should be more strict. That share was almost identical among the general public, according to Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew.
Pew did find significant differences between millennials and older generations on two gun control proposals — banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The results showed that a greater share of millennials — both Republicans and Democrats — are more conservative when it comes to those bans compared with Generation Xers, baby boomers and members of the silent generation.
“What we’re hearing now in the immediate aftermath of Parkland might not be representative of what a whole generation feels,” Parker says.
To be clear, many demographers argue that millennials make up one part of today’s generation of young people. Some say that millennials include people born in the 1980s and all the way through 2000.
The teenage high school activists who have been organizing since the Florida shooting, they say, are part of a separate group some call “Generation Z.” Pollsters generally don’t count the views of those under 18, so there probably won’t be national polling on this group until more of these young people are officially adults.
‘A more progressive generation’?
Still, for 19-year-old Abigail Kaye, who considers herself a millennial, these polling results about her peers come as a shock.
“I think that’s surprising because I feel like we’re a more progressive generation,” says Kaye, who attends the University of Delaware.
Kaye says she remembers hearing about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when she was growing up about a couple hours away in Scituate, R.I.
“We’ve grown up more, I think, with this kind of gun violence, so you’d think maybe we’d push for more regulations,” she adds.
The poll findings also surprised some members of Students for the Second Amendment, a club at the University of Delaware.
The club’s treasurer, Jordan Riger of Lutherville, Md., 22, says that after taking an National Rifle Association course on pistol shooting when she was 18, she has seen firearms as tools for self-defense. But she thinks many of her millennial peers don’t.
“We are living in a time right now where we’re seeing a lot more of these mass casualties,” Riger says. “I think when people don’t know that much about firearms, when they see it on the news used in horrible fashion, that’s like all they associate it with.”
Sitting outside a student center on the University of Delaware’s campus, Cahlil Evans of Smyrna, Del., 20, says while he doesn’t need a gun, he can understand why people would want hunting rifles and handguns. He draws the line, though, for assault-style rifles.
“There’s no need for these high-caliber rifles that pierce through walls,” Evans says. “People can say they use them for hunting or whatever, but why do you need a weapon with such high caliber that it would pierce through the animal and like eight trees behind it?”
Still, 22-year-old Jeremy Grunden of Harrington, Del., says he is encouraged to hear that millennials are less likely to support banning assault-style weapons.
“I base what we need off of what the military has,” says Grunden, who is president of Students for the Second Amendment at the University of Delaware. “When it comes to … the Second Amendment, we’re supposed to be a well-armed and well-maintained militia and all that. Quite frankly, we need that and plus more.”