'From my Cold, Dead Hands' - A Case Study of Republican Gun Policy From 1945 to 2018
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This thesis is a case study of Republican gun policy from 1945 to 2018. The early gun debate of the modern era came to life in the 1960s and culminated with the bipartisan passing of the Gun Control Act of 1968. I present a historical retelling of American gun policy and the five major gun bills signed into law on the federal level after World War II. I ask why the Republican party evolved on gun policy and test whether the gun lobby, polarization, or political reform is responsible for pushing the Republican party to the right on this issue. I find polarization to be the most important factor in making the GOP more pro-gun. It created the underlying political environment that made it possible for the Republican party to move towards an uncompromising position on gun control. There was significant polarization in the U.S. Congress during this thesis’ time period, and Republicans polarized most intensely in the House in the mid- 1990s and in the early 2010s in the Senate. I present roll-call data on gun votes in the U.S. Senate from 1972 to 2013 that shows how the divergence between the two parties matches the other signs of polarization at the time. I dismiss the public stereotypes about the National Rifle Association (NRA) and show why they are a rational actor who sets short- and long-term goals to shape gun policy. The NRA has grown to become a larger, more partisan organization with a more active member base than when it first started actively pursuing public policy goals in the 1970s. Its success has largely come from presenting lawmakers with a significant “legislative subsidy,” and not from its political donations.