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Gun Control and Linkage Mechanisms

There are several institutions or people that influence the government but are not directly apart of it. These people or groups help influence who is elected, what issues are discussed, and what becomes public policy. These groups of people are known as linkage mechanisms. Four that are extremely important linkage mechanisms to our democracy are public opinion, organized interest groups, political parties, and elections. Each of these influences the government in different ways, including negatively. Although linkage mechanisms are not part of the government, they affect it in countless ways. One controversial subject in American society today concerns gun control. The second amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms, but with the amount of gun-related violence today many feel the government needs to step up and enact more gun control. It is a tricky situation since about fifty percent of Americans own firearms, while the others believe that gun regulation is needed.

Public opinion is an extremely important linkage mechanism when related to gun control. Public opinion is, “the political attitudes and beliefs expressed by ordinary citizens” (Greenberg & Page 101). Since the United States is a representative democracy, the government should do exactly what the citizens want. Of course, this does not always happen, but public opinion still is the most beneficial to democracy. Listening to public opinion is the easiest way for the government to give the people what they want. In fact, the best way to see if it is true democracy is to see whether or not the citizens feel the government policies correspond to what the public wants. In the case of gun control, it is difficult because public opinion is split. Recently many have been pro-gun control due to the number of deaths from guns. This is especially the case after the deadly school shooting at Columbine high school in Littleton, Colorado, as well as several others including two recent ones in San Diego, California. Many citizens question how these kids had guns in the first place, and if they were stricter laws maybe lives could have been saved.

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On the other hand, many anti-gun control citizens have voiced their opinion in retaliation to cries for more gun control. Many of these people own guns for sport or self-defense and feel that it is an infringement on their second amendment right to bear arms. History also shows that public opinion has been taken into account by the government when it comes to gun control laws. During the 1960s several important figures were assassinated, including John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Following these assassinations public opinion for gun control was very high. For this reason, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the Gun Control Act of 1968 (Rosen 61). This set a national standard of how and to whom a gun may be sold. Another example of this came in the early 1990s when the Brady Bill was being kicked around Congress. Republicans were trying to attach a filibuster to the bill, but decided to abandon it and let the bill pass in 1994, due to the fact that public opinion polls showed that more than ninety percent of Americans were in favor of it (Greenberg & Page 121).

Usually, the results would not be this good, however, a scholar found that U.S. government policy corresponds with what the public wants about two-thirds of the time. Also, when public opinion drastically changes, the government will respond accordingly, within about a year eighty-seven percent of the time (Greenberg & Page 121). Given that the United States is a democracy it is important that the government takes into account the opinion of its citizens. In the case of gun control, the government has a history of listening to the public and it is one of the hottest topics in politics today. This means that democracy is working and this is why public opinion, when taken into account is the most important linkage mechanism. A second linkage mechanism that plays a role in our government is organized interest groups. For the issue of gun control, the most obvious interest group is the NRA (National Rifle Association), but there are groups for both sides of the argument.

These interest groups show why this linkage mechanism is the most pernicious of the four. Interest groups for both sides fundraise and support candidates and political parties that agree with their interests. This shows how interest groups use the money to affect who is in office at the local or national level. Using money to influence politicians is not the way that political offices and public policies are supposed to be decided. Unfortunately in America today they play a huge role in politics. This is why interest groups are so pernicious. During the 1990s nearly $2.3 million was spent in soft money, PAC, and individual contributions by interest groups. Of this, nearly ninety percent went to Republicans, who are known to support gun rights. Even more, money is spent lobbying members of Congress. In 1997 and 1998 alone, gun rights groups spent a whopping $8.2 million, while gun control advocates spent $380,000 (Dizard 193). With all this money being spent, interest groups are able to keep any bills from passing.

Instead, they just go back and forth between the two sides, and no progress is made. If a bill does pass it likely will not even make a difference because it has been watered down so much. Interest groups hinder the speed and quality, which the government works due to spending to support candidates or lobbying congressmen already in office. This particular linkage mechanism for the most part does not help get things done in government. Instead, it causes corruption and slows down the political process. Political parties are a third linkage mechanism, which is important to the formation of public policy. Political parties are organizations that try to get people in office that will carry the party’s label or ideas. There are both good and bad sides to political parties. One good part is that voters can judge the party’s past performance in deciding whether to vote for them. One bad thing is that if an elected official wants to enact something he/she thinks is right, or that the public wants; they may be restrained by the views of their political party.

In the United States, there is basically a two-party system. The two parties being the Republicans, who are conservative, and the Democrats, who are liberal. Within the Republican platform is the plank that gun rights should not be infringed upon. Overall Republicans are more likely to support individual rights than enact laws to control them. This is why of all the money that the NRA donates to try to lobby candidates, all of it goes to the Republican Party. Democrats for the most part disagree, and instead are in favor of gun control laws. Democrats generally are in favor of getting involved to fix something even if it infringes on a person’s individual rights. Since the two parties generally do not agree on gun control laws, it makes it difficult to get much done as far as gun control legislation. This is especially true when there is a discrepancy between the political party of the President and the majority of Congress. While political parties due cause some barriers towards enacting gun law legislation, they also can help. For example, someone who is pro-gun control knows that voting for a Democrat is probably the best idea for that one issue.

Political Parties as a linkage mechanism continue to be a debatable issue on whether they are good or bad for politics in America. Finally, elections are a fundamental linkage mechanism to democratic politics. It is the underlying element by which citizens control what their government does. By having an election popular sovereignty and majority rule will decide who will be in the office to carry out what the people want. This sounds great but does not always work this way. Unfortunately, not all people vote, so the person elected may not be actually representative of what the people want. Another problem is if the politician gets in office and is influenced to change his mind about an issue. A third problem that is evident presently has to do with the election of George W. Bush and gun control. Despite the majority of Americans being in favor of new laws for gun control, Bush, an advocate of your second amendment right, was elected. This is because people voted for him for other reasons besides gun control.

That is probably the major problem with elections. While you can choose who to vote for, you cannot vote only for the views you agree with, but every view that candidate possesses. Another factor in Bush being elected is the percentage of Republicans who vote is much higher than that of Democrats. Most Democrats want more gun control but because not as many of them voted, they were unable to elect their candidate. This means that despite these people wanting gun control, because they didn’t vote, they will not have the representation to give them what they need. Elections are the most basic linkage mechanism in our democracy. For the most part, they are a great way of electing representatives of what the people want. However, it does not always work out perfectly and people don’t always get exactly what they want.

In the United States, there are several linkage mechanisms that articulate public demands to the government. Public opinion is the most important because the government in a democracy is there to provide the people with what they want. Interest groups are somewhat of the evil link. By using money to influence politics, interest groups taint American public policy. Political parties an institution of the government that causes problems with politicians always having to follow their party lines. However, this does make it easier on voters, who can tell a lot about a candidate based on which political party he is in. Finally, elections are the basic way of getting what the people want into office. Usually, this works out, although not always perfect due to some minor imperfections in the system. Each of these linkage mechanisms has played an important role when related to gun control. Overall the government has done a decent job of representing what the people want as far as gun laws are concerned. In order to continue to do this, they need to spend less time with interest groups and more time looking at public opinion.


  • Greenberg, Edward S. & Benjamin I. Page: The Struggle for Democracy. New York, Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc., 1999.
  • Rosen, Gary: Yes and No to Gun Control. Commentary September 2000.
  • Dizard, Jan E.: Guns in America: A Reader. New York, New York University Press, 1999.

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Gun Control and Linkage Mechanisms. (2021, Mar 27). Retrieved June 24, 2021, from