Today I read a rather thought-provoking post from Scott Rasmussen  that generally confirms, with a degree of statistical support, an anecdotal observation of my own personal feelings as well as the even more strident online postings that I see from friends and acquaintances. Support for given government initiatives or behaviors (whether that involves civil or institutional or family government) does not occur in a vacuum, but rather occurs in the context of trust. If we lack trust in authorities, than everything they do becomes suspect, and every proposal they offer becomes loaded with all kinds of unfriendly assumptions as to motive.
The commentary I read specifically talked about gun control, and showed that while there is broad support for certain aspects of gun control, that support is highly contingent on the increased restrictions being toward those people who are most likely to harm others–convicted felons and people with serious mental and emotional problems–rather than being broad-based and directed at the law-abiding population at large. Likewise, large segments of the American population have no trust in the motives of the government and see any increased regulation as being a pretext for greater government control and tyrannical behavior.
One can argue whether these fears are entirely rational or justified. One cannot argue that these fears do not exist or are not widespread. One’s behavior when there is significant mistrust and desires support for one’s behaviors in offices of authority needs to first examine the grounds of mistrust and suspicion and answer those concerns if possible to rebuild the trust account that makes it possible for others to have faith in one’s character and competence as well as one’s good intentions. Once that is felt widely and deeply enough, then one’s actions cease to appear threatening and can garner a large amount of support.
It is rather surprising just how often trust is taken for granted. People assume that because they see themselves as competent and trustworthy that others will give them the benefit of the doubt. They may wonder in exasperation what it takes for others to trus them? They may, in light of their frustrations, abandon attempts to reach out to others and face continual suspicion and hostility and focus on those who like them as they are and trust them to do what they would wish, if not perfectly than at least mostly. This sort of behavior can be seen over and over again in institutions where suspicion is rampant, and that happens to be most of the institutions that I have been a part of. I’d like to think that this rampant division and suspicion is not my own personal fault, but is rather an aspect of the troubled times that we live in, and a testament to our failure to overcome our shortcomings and our experiences.
One of the biggest problems in dealing with trust issues is that people who are suspicious and do not trust others tend not to recognize the source of their problems with others in terms of trust. Trust can be destroyed by wrongs that one perceives or feels (even if there was no evil intent from others), or wrongs that other people have committed in the past, depleting one’s general trust reserves. Similarly, even when we are aware that our problems with others are due to problems of trust, our suspicion generally prevents us from letting others know what can be done to regain trust, if we even know ourselves what others can do to rebuild trust. After all, if we think people to be evil and incompetent, we are not likely to trust their decency by telling them how they can prove to us their integrity if we consider them deceptive and manipulative and malicious.
So what remains to be done? First, we ought to be aware of the suspicion that other people have of us, and to recognize that whether that suspicion exists because of our own actions, or because of the actions of others who have hurt them before, that the suspicion and mistrust are real and are a barrier to the acceptance and support of our plans and behaviors. If we can repair relationships and (re)build trust, then we ought to take advantage of those opportunities. If we cannot do so directly or quickly, let us at least focus our attention on relationships before we focus on support for specific proposals. Sadly, too few people seem to understand the need and value of that course of action, and wish to rush matters.
 The text of his commentary is as follows:
Gun Debate Highlights Voter Distrust of Government
A Commentary By Scott Rasmussen
Gun control advocates sound puzzled by congressional resistance to relatively modest gun control legislation. Many cite a poll showing 90% of Americans support more background checks and suggest the National Rifle Association is the only reason Congress won’t implement the will of the people.
There are a few problems with this argument. First, it implies that Congress normally does what voters want. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most voters consistently opposed the Wall Street bailout, the president’s health care law and the cash-for-clunkers plan. All became law.
Voters overwhelmingly support term limits, an end to the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street and an end to congressional pensions. But nobody’s holding his or her breath for any of those things to become law.
Most voters also believe cutting government spending would be good for the U.S. economy, but total government spending in America has gone up every single year since 1954.
As the above list highlights, the Political Class typically gets what it wants regardless of public opinion. What’s unusual about the gun control debate is that the Political Class appears to be stymied in one of those rare instances when it appears to agree with public opinion.
However, public opinion is more complicated than gun control advocates want to acknowledge, and there is real political risk in voting for the proposed legislation.
Expanding background checks for would-be gun owners is a commonsense proposal much like requiring a photo ID before someone is allowed to vote. Both have overwhelming support.
But while people think requiring more background checks makes sense, most don’t think it will make much of a difference. Only 41% believe more background checks will reduce gun violence.
Second, people want to make sure the checks are limited to only restricting convicted felons and those with serious mental health issues. Only 30% want broader background checks.
Third, just 40% want to see a national database of gun owners created. This last point really frustrates some advocates of gun control, including President Obama.
In Denver last week, he said, “You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away.’ Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you.”
On one level, the president is right. If people trusted the government, there would be no reason to be concerned about background checks, but only one-in-five voters believe the government currently has the consent of the governed.
Half the nation views the federal government as a threat to individual liberties rather than a protector of those rights. Sixty-five percent (65%) recognize that the purpose of Second Amendment gun control rights is protection against tyranny, and 44% believe it’s likely the government will try to confiscate all privately owned guns over the next generation.
This helps explain why the legislation is struggling in Congress. People like the idea of background checks but don’t think they’ll make much difference. They’re also suspicious about the motives of those in government.
In the end, those who would like to see stronger federal restrictions on gun ownership should start by supporting reforms that will enable the government to re-earn the trust of the American people.