Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Andrew O’Geen
Despite its salience in American culture, the Supreme Court has only ruled the 2nd Amendment on a handful of times, and the legal contours of the individual rights interpretation have yet to be very clearly defined. Without legal frameworks to turn to, public understanding of the Amendment therefore has to rely on more traditional actors that shape opinion, described through the theory of Popular Constitutionalism. This thesis analyzes public opinion on the 2nd Amendment with this frame in mind. While there are many studies that research public opinion on gun control, little surveys focus explicitly on the 2nd Amendment, and while gun policy is intrinsically related to the 2nd Amendment, my research intentionally separated the two as distinct concepts to assess what public opinion of the 2nd Amendment is. My fundamental research question asks how people distinguish between the 2nd Amendment and gun policy, and what rhetorical actors and/or methods underscore this relationship. I hypothesized that the 2nd Amendment would be generally favorable independent of party affiliation, and that party affiliation would affect how closely individuals associated the 2nd Amendment with gun control regulations, expecting that Democrats would view the two as separable than would Republicans. To test this, I circulated a survey that assessed various aspects of public opinion about the 2nd Amendment. Ultimately, I argue that the general reverence owed to the 2nd Amendment by politicians across the board has provided a latent support for, or at least comfort with, the 2nd in Democrats and enabled a more absolutist stance on the part of Republicans, bringing the 2nd Amendment into electoral decisions more strongly that guns themselves. This relationship is informed by the way individuals distinguish between the 2nd Amendment and guns.