While I was familiarizing myself with Mike Johnson of Louisiana, our new speaker of the House, news arrived of a uniquely American event, another mass shooting, this time in a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston, Maine.
The details are characteristic: Kids were having a good time at youth night in the bowling alley when a white male opened fire with an assault-style, semiautomatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine. Despite Maine’s permissive gun laws — concealed carry is allowed without a permit — no good guy with a gun stepped up. At least 18 are reported killed and many more wounded.
Which made me wonder: Why can’t we Americans have a society that more closely resembles the one that most of us want?
The fact is, polling shows that most Americans favor stricter gun laws in general, and when specific elements of gun policy are assessed, the numbers are persuasive. For example, according to the Pew Research Center, 61% of Americans say that it is too easy to obtain a gun and 79% favor raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 years.
When it comes to the technologies that make mass murders possible — assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines — most Americans want them banned, at impressive rates: 66% (Pew); 55% (Gallup); 67% (Statista); 61% (PBS, NPR, Marist).
Even though most Americans want to eliminate or restrict these dangerous weapons, somehow we’re not able to do it. The mass shootings continue.
I wondered what our new House speaker thinks about this. Mike Johnson’s website isn’t enlightening. A tab labeled Issues links to bland boilerplate about Rule of Law and Human Dignity, which are “issues” that most Americans already support.
However, Johnson last week told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in his first interview as speaker that now is not the time to discuss legislation to address the scourge of mass shootings, adding: “The problem is the human heart, not guns.” He said he believes, “it’s not the weapon, it’s the underlying problem.”
In fact, Johnson appears to hold minority views regarding other issues, as well. For example, he’s an outspoken opponent of abortion rights while 61% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (Pew). And while 71% of Americans support same-sex marriage (Gallup), in 2004 Johnson wrote in the Shreveport Times that homosexuality is “inherently unnatural” and that gay marriage would lead to similar rights for pedophiles.
But here’s something that should worry us all: The great majority of Americans believe that Joe Biden won the last election. Not only did Mike Johnson vote against certifying the election, he is credited with coming up with a legal theory to justify Trump’s fabricated objections to the election, and he supported a Texas lawsuit to overturn the results in four states clearly won by Biden.
In short, Johnson is an election denier; most Americans are not.
It’s a puzzle: How did a man whose views are so out of line with most Americans’ achieve the powerful House speakership, a position that puts him second in line for the presidency?
Granderson: GOP hate for LGBTQ+ people fueled Mike Johnson’s rise
Trump ally Mike Johnson elected House speaker three weeks after McCarthy ouster
New House speaker once argued for criminalizing gay sex
Borenstein: With U.S. House speaker fight over, the real chaos begins
Some of the answer involves the inherent advantages that the minority perspective enjoys in our system, the Electoral College, for example, and disproportionate representation in the Senate. Crafty gerrymandering has also boosted the power of the minority view.
But radical minority views such as Johnson’s get a lot of energy from the continuing hold that former President Donald Trump has on the Republican Party. In fact, it appears that no candidate could have become speaker without Trump’s imprimatur. That represents a lot of power for the minority and helps explain how the Election Denier in Chief managed to get an election denier into the speakership.
Therefore, we can probably expect to have more policies forced upon us that are the opposite of what most Americans want, which is a sorry situation in a democracy.
And, therefore, a prominent MAGA slogan has some resonance with Americans who wish that public policy would more closely reflect what the public actually desires: “We want our country back.”
John M. Crisp is a Tribune News Service columnist. ©2023 Tribune Content Agency.