April 17, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

How southern states export the effects of their gun laws, project power and dominate America

America’s “broader public opinion" means nothing to them.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Editor’s note
I wrote this before news broke Saturday of a birthday party massacre that left four dead and scores injured in rural Alabama. The state recently enacted a law allowing anyone over 18 to buy any gun without permitting. I wrote it before the criminally indicted former president spoke at the National Rifle Association’s meeting. He said shooting massacres are not a gun problem, but a “mental health problem, this is a social problem, this is a cultural problem, this is a spiritual problem.” –JS

Call me old-school, but I love reading print. Every morning, I head for the stoop for pick up USA Today. Wednesday’s frontpage had a headline that reminded me I should remind you these United States are not one country, and we’re fooling ourselves by continuing to think otherwise.

The hed: “Majority support Tenn. protests.” 

The dek: “Republicans are at risk with gun control stance.” 

It was a polling story. A new survey by Ipsos Poll found that three-fourths of Americans, including six in 10 Republicans, believe that state legislators have the right to peacefully protest at state capitols. 

Virtually every member of the Washington press corps has in their mind an image of America. That image is of one country, united by law, custom, history and Constitution. That image is pure makebelieve.

The poll was taken two weekends ago after the Tennessee House of Representatives expelled two Democrats who protested on the chamber floor in support of tighter gun laws after a shooting massacre in Nashville left three children and three adults shot to pieces.

Chief political correspondent Susan Page said two-thirds of Americans believe state lawmakers “should enact stricter controls on gun purchases. Tightened laws were backed by 40 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents as well as 92 percent of Democrats.”

OK, that’s good to know.

But it’s not good to presume what Page presumes, which is this: “The findings underscore the political risks for Republicans at odds with broader public opinion on the response to a spate of mass shootings.”

Does anyone think Republicans face “political risks” for being at odds with broader public opinion, on the issue of gun control and shooting massacres, or any other issue of public interest? Does anyone?

If so, they have been thinking that for years – since Adam Lanza blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut (down the road from where I’m writing this essay), and murdered 20 6-year-old baby first-graders, along with their teachers and teacher’s aides, using a semiautomatic rifle that literally shot them all to pieces. If so, they have been thinking that every time someone shot up a school, totaling scores and scores of mass death events, since 2012, with multitudes dead and maimed, according to research by NBC News. 

Over that time, “broader public opinion” has been remarkably constant, with majorities favoring gun-law reforms. Yet despite that, American soil has been soaked, at regular intervals, with the blood of innocents.

Given the years and years during which the Republicans have been said to risk being at odds with broader public opinion, I’m guessing they have not faced any risk for being at odds with broader public opinion. 

It’s good to know what people are thinking. The Ipsos poll provides useful info. But it’s not good – warped to the point of disinformation – to say “the findings underscore” any such claim. Clearly, they do not.

But that’s not the only thing getting distorted. By no means is Susan Page alone. Virtually every member of the Washington press corps has in their mind an image of America. That image is of one country, united by law, custom and Constitution. That image is pure makebelieve.

The truth is that America is not divided into 50 states so much as into a couple handfuls of regions (perhaps 10) that have, through our history, formed pacts with each other to compete against each other. The most powerful of these is the American south, the ex-slaver states, which has, since the republic’s founding, projected its power onto the other regions for the purpose of bending all these United States to its will.

It’s still happening. 

Which states have the loosest gun laws? Southern states. Which are most dominated by the Republicans? Ditto. Which are most resistant to “broader public opinion” favoring greater restrictions on firearms? Same. Which states send the greatest number of lawmakers to the US Congress to block any chance of national gun-law reforms? You got it.

States with loose gun laws do not feel the effects of tight gun laws. But states with tight gun laws feel the effects of loose gun laws. This is how ex-slaver states bend these United States to their will — with violence.

Don’t believe it?

There are scores of hundreds of dead kids saying otherwise.

Other regions feature similarly loose gun laws. But this doesn’t detract from my point. It adds to it. In the context of shooting massacres, Appalachian states, plains states and Rocky Mountain states have allied with southern states to project their power onto coastal states that outnumber them in population and economic power. They can’t dominate them with democracy. They can by exporting violence.

You might not know this by believing, as most of the Washington press corps does, that these United States are one country in which one region’s lawmakers give a rat’s ass about “broader public opinion.” Things would be better if journalists dropped the idea. It’s because they won’t that so many Americans don’t know the truth about America.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. Brian Branagan on April 17, 2023 at 1:33 pm


    Your observation that “America is not divided into 50 states so much as into a couple handfuls of regions (perhaps 10) that have, through our history, formed pacts with each other to compete against each other” really resonated with me. Could you say more about how to use this idea as a way to make sense of what is happening? What are the current pacts being formed by these different regions and how are they competing?

    • Avatar photo John Stoehr on April 22, 2023 at 8:55 am

      Hi Brian, the idea of regions forming pacts with each other is clear from my reading of history, but it’s best expression probably comes from books that were inspired by and that came after the publication of David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed (1991). The one that influenced me was Colin Woodard’s American Nations. https://colinwoodard.com/books/american-nations. Once you have the idea fixed in your mind, you start seeing its expression everywhere you look. That’s my experience, anyway. Thanks for writing! JS

  2. Bern on April 18, 2023 at 2:06 pm

    Spot on.
    2 marks.

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