Will Tucson Shooting Spark a Call for Tougher Gun Laws?

Polls show Americans don't support stricter gun control laws.

January 10, 2011, 4:09 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2011 — -- Saturday's images from Tucson, Ariz., looked all too familiar. Once again, America mourns victims of gun violence and questions what could provoke such a destructive act.

But will the tragedy in Tucson change public opinion on gun control and bring a call for stricter laws? Polling and history indicate no.

American support for stricter gun laws has steadily declined. A Gallup poll from last October reported that 44 percent of Americans said that gun laws should be tougher, a dramatic drop from 1990, when 78 percent of Americans said they supported stricter gun control.

"The very substantial majority of Americans believe that the Constitution does provide for the right of gun ownership in this country, and most Americans don't believe that availability of guns is the prime factor in gun violence," said Gary Langer, of Langer Research Associates, and ABC's longtime polling director.

Heinous rampages like the one in Columbine in 1999 and at Virginia Tech in 2007 did little to change public opinion on the issue. No significant increase in the call for new gun laws followed these massacres.

But Langer noted that the massacre at Virginia Tech triggered a call for other policy changes, such as stronger efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people who've been treated for mental illness, and increased college campus screening for mentally disturbed students.

Gun control activists said there are still too few laws in place, and the ease and availability of guns puts all Americans at risk.

"People have become suspicious of the ability of laws to make a difference, and I think that when they look at shootings like this they think laws didn't stop this from happening," said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy wants to change that perception.

McCarthy has been a fierce advocate for stricter gun control. Her husband was killed and her son was wounded in a 1993 shooting on the Long Island Rail Road. She said today she would introduce legislation, as early as this week, that would restrict the high-capacity ammunition that was used by the suspected Arizona shooter.

"There is no reason for a citizen to have to have these large capacity clips. The police officers, the military, absolutely," she told ABC News. "These are just in my opinion a mass destruction on being able to kill as many people in short period of time."

An amendment to extend the assault weapons ban of the Clinton era, which would have made it more difficult to manufacture and purchase the Glock 19 used in the Tucson shooting, passed the Senate in 2004, but the House let it sit without a vote.

Langer said that on the issue of gun ownership, including handguns, the majority of Americans are convinced that those should remain legal and are not convinced that more laws would do much to keep weapons from falling into the hands of unstable individuals.

McCarthy said she was not deterred by the long shot odds of getting her legislation passed.

"You can never say never. We went to Congress to reduce gun violence in this country," she said. "I believe I'm the voice of many victims across the country."

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