The shocking trial of abortion provider Kermit Gosnell, who allegedly snipped the necks of babies in a filthy clinic, has stirred outrage even among abortion supporters. Meanwhile, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, in December 2012, the Senate recently rejected a bill expanding gun control, drawing ire from President Obama and media outlets.
Despite being supported by different sides of the political spectrum, abortion and gun control share several striking similarities. For one, very few Americans support a complete abortion ban, just as very few citizens support a ban on all guns. Only 15-20% of Americans want abortion completely banned while about 10-15% want all citizens banned from owning guns.
Also, most Americans want abortion and gun ownership limited in some fashion. For example, around 75% of Americans oppose partial-birth abortion and around 80-90% support laws requiring background checks on potential gun buyers.
However, the federal government imposes comparatively few restrictions on gun ownership and abortion because Americans vacillate between mild support of and mild opposition to major restrictions. Thus, Congress rarely makes sweeping changes in policy regarding these issues. Shocking incidents such as Gosnell’s alleged abortions and the Sandy Hook shooting can shift public opinion for a short time. Nevertheless, these shifts rarely last, since the speed of the modern news cycle forces even the most compelling stories off the air after several weeks of frenzied coverage.
A final similarity between the issues of gun control and abortion is that the chief successes of abortion opponents and gun control supporters have occurred in state legislatures. So-called “red” states impose numerous restrictions on abortion but rarely restrictions on gun ownership while so-called “blue” states enact few abortion restrictions but many strict gun controls.
Despite these similarities, there are major political differences between abortion and gun control. Democrats usually seek gun control but not abortion restrictions while Republicans typically favor abortion restrictions and not gun control. Also, the mainstream media has in large measure sided with Democrats on both of these issues and often resorts to misleading polls in reports about gun control and abortion.
There are also differences in constitutionality regarding gun control and abortion restrictions. The Second Amendment explicitly protects the “right of the people to keep and bear arms,” so nearly all gun control is unconstitutional. However, no part of the Constitution explicitly protects the right to abortion, which means all abortion restrictions should be constitutional. Even “pro-choice” advocates agree the Supreme Court used terrible logic in Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion in America.
The issues of abortion and gun control illustrate the limits of using federal power to change divisive but established policy. Without a substantial congressional majority or widespread public support induced by such tragedies as Gosnell’s abortion practices or the Sandy Hook shooting, supporters of greater restrictions on abortion and guns can achieve little success on the federal level.