Gun Violence and Views on Gun Control

Jan 9, 2011 2:47pm

Beyond discussion of the tone of the political discourse, the Giffords shooting may prompt a new look at gun violence in this country. From the perspective of public preferences, it’s worth knowing that previous heinous gun crimes have not prompted greater support for gun control in general. To the contrary, overall movement in recent years has been in opposition to stricter gun laws. 

However, there’s an important proviso: Most Americans in the past have favored banning semi-automatic handguns, which is the type of weapon used in Saturday’s attack. 

In the latest test of basic attitudes, a Gallup poll in October, 44 percent of Americans said gun laws in general should be made more strict, tying the record low (set in 2009) and down dramatically from 78 percent when Gallup first asked the question in 1990. Forty-two percent said such laws should be kept as they are now; 12 percent, made less strict. 

Sixty-nine percent in this poll opposed banning handguns except for the police “and other authorized persons.” Twenty-nine percent were in favor, one point from the record low (2009) and down from 60 percent when Gallup first asked this question in 1959. See Gallup’s report here

Still, as with any issue, there are layers of opinion on gun issues. In an ABC/Post poll in 2007, after the Virginia Tech shootings, a majority, 55 percent, supported banning semi-automatic handguns, and more, 67 percent supported banning assault weapons. (The latter, though, was down from 80 percent in 1994.) Majorities continued to oppose banning concealed weapons, much less banning handguns entirely. 

That full report is here. As it notes, there was overwhelming support after VA Tech for other policy changes, including stronger efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people who’ve been treated for mental illness, and increasing college campus screening for mentally disturbed students. 

That poll also covered the basic reasons for public resistance to stricter gun laws in general (with, again, the exception of semi-automatic weapons, and a few other particulars). Americans overwhelmingly believe gun ownership is a constitutional right; they overwhelmingly believe the availability of guns is not the primary cause of gun violence; and they broadly favor better enforcement of existing gun laws over creating stricter laws. Most also express doubt that if new gun laws were passed, they would significantly reduce gun violence. 

About 45 percent of Americans say they, or someone in their household, owns a gun.

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