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It may be that the NRA has an inordinate amount of influence in American politics, given most voters favor gun control and Congress is yet to pass it.

Or it may be, as a new study suggests, that gun owners are more politically engaged than Americans who don’t own guns.

A study released Sunday by political scientists at the University of Kansas, found significantly more gun owners were politically active and voted in presidential elections than those who did not own guns over the last 40 years – and the gap is growing.

The reason: today’s gun owner is more likely than a gun owner in the 1970s to think of political engagement as an extension of Second Amendment rights, according to the study.

“This modern gun owner identity includes a conception of gun owners as people who take direct action to ensure their beliefs match behavior,” write study authors Donald Haider-Markel, Mark Joslyn, and Abigail Vegter. “Thus, the gun-owner’s self-mobilization makes her more likely to participate in all forms of politics.”

The leader of Connecticut’s largest gun rights group agrees.

“There is always the possibility for a tyrannical government to take power as we have seen across the world and throughout history,” said Scott Wilson, president of the 31,000-member Connecticut Citizens Defense League. “So to maintain our constitutional republic, every single person who believes in liberty and the Constitution should actively take a role and participate in the legislative process.”

The nation’s two largest gun groups agreed with the study’s findings but objected to the premise that, if not for the power of the NRA, more gun control legislation would have been passed – particularly in the wake of national tragedies such as the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.

“That viewpoint does not recognize the reality of the year-over-year effect of the organized disparagement of law-abiding gun owners and their conflation with criminals who misuse guns carried out by gun control politicians … and the disproportionate attention that treatment gets by the remaining traditional media,” said Michael Bazinet, spokesman of the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s 12,000-member trade association. “Maybe that’s really why gun owners are more politically active.”

The 6 million-member NRA agreed.

“We vote because every single day in this country politicians threaten to take away our constitutional right to self-defense,” said NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen. “We vote because we know if we are silent we will lose our fundamental right to protect and defend ourselves.”

The study, which uses survey data from a nonpartisan research group at the University of Chicago, does not include voting records from the 2016 presidential election, and therefore does not account for mobilization efforts by gun violence prevention groups, such as Newtown Action Alliance and Sandy Hook Promise.

The study shows that in the 2012 election, 72 percent of gun owners voted, compared to 61 percent of non-gun owners, a difference of 11 percentage points.

The gap has widened from 1972, when the voting margin of gun owners over non-gun owners was 2 percentage points.

The study’s authors say politically engaged gun owners, more than the NRA, explain why federal gun laws in the United States have remained the same in the wake of mass shootings.

The study’s authors note that about 20 percent of gun owners are members of the NRA.

“We do not dispute the significant influence of gun rights groups in American politics, yet we contend that gun-owners as a sub-population…have developed a distinct social identity around gun ownership,” the study says. “[A]nd as a function of this identity, (they) are mobilized to participate in politics more often and through a variety of forms.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342