Here is an interesting theory on how the gun control debate may turn out: suburban politicians could tilt the discussion in certain directions.
More recently, Democrats appear to have found a different source of bipartisan support for significant new gun control: otherwise right-leaning politicians who represent suburban constituents. Lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Virginia have recently warmed to new gun legislation. As Philip Rucker and Paul Kane propose in the Washington Post:
The shift underscores a new reality of gun politics in America: The rapid growth of suburbs in historically gun-friendly states is forcing politicians to cater to the more centrist and pragmatic views of voters in subdivisions and cul-de-sacs as well as to constituents in shrinking rural hamlets where gun ownership is more of a way of life.
The growing political influence of the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh suburbs in particular may have something to do with Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey’s sudden involvement in forging a compromise. Something similar is happening in the rapidly expanding suburbs of Virginia, a state where politics are dramatically different in the Blue Ridge than they are in the D.C. suburbs (the NRA’s national office also happens to be located right in the heart of the Northern Virginia suburbs). In gun-friendly Georgia, Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns is betting on pro-gun control TV ads airing in the Atlanta region.
Rucker and Kane again:
Unlike every other debate that has unfolded recently in a bitterly divided Washington, the gun debate is much more about geography than party. The dividing lines are not between Democrats and Republicans, but between rural lawmakers and those who must cater to urban and suburban constituencies.
This is interesting but it isn’t new in American politics: with the majority of Americans now live in suburbs, there are plenty of voters in the suburbs who could go one or the other depending on the issue or election. Indeed, the past presidential elections have hinged on the suburban vote as big cities have voted Democratic and rural areas have voted Republican. There are splits within the suburban vote based on geography: those closer to big cities, living in places like inner-ring suburbs that face many big city issues lean more Democratic and suburbs further out and the exurbs lean Republican.
I think we could also flip the causal direction in this argument: suburban politicians could indeed influence the gun control debate one way or another but, more broadly, couldn’t suburban politicians throw their weight around if they could agree? Some might argue American politics in the last 60 years or so has already been dominated by suburban interests (think interstate highways, the emphasis on the middle class, etc.) but imagine a suburban lobby that doesn’t just mediate between urban and rural politicians but dictates the main terms.