Most in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 58 percent, say stricter gun laws could have prevented the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But which laws remains an open question: A ban on assault weapons still splits the country evenly, with no change from 2016.
Desire for action is evident in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates: Seventy-seven percent of Americans say Congress is not doing enough to try to stop such shootings, and 62 percent say the same of Trump. Large numbers feel “strongly” that action to date has been inadequate -- 59 percent in the case of Congress, 50 percent as to Trump.
The public’s especially broad endorsement of improved mental health screening and treatment is in line with another result: Americans by a 2-to-1 margin blame mass shootings mainly on problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems, rather than on inadequate gun control laws.
Still, compared with a 2015 ABC News/Post survey, somewhat fewer mainly blame mental health screening (down 6 points) and somewhat more blame inadequate gun control laws (up 5 points). Greater concern about mental health screening over gun laws was 63-23 percent then, vs. 57-28 percent now.
Banning assault weapons -- the alleged shooter in Parkland wielded a semiautomatic AR-15-style rifle -- remains more divisive, with 50 percent in support, 46 percent opposed. That’s almost identical to a 51-48 percent division in June 2016, after a gunman killed 49 at an Orlando nightclub. Results have ranged over time from a high of 80 percent support for an assault weapons ban in mid-1994 and a recent high of 58 percent in January 2013, to a low of 45 percent in late 2015.
Opinions on banning assault weapons are marked by especially sharp differences among groups. Fifty-five percent of women support a ban, compared with 43 percent of men. That reflects a vast gap between white women (60 percent support) and white men (39 percent); there’s no such gender gap among nonwhites. The gap widens further comparing support for an assault weapons ban among college-educated white women (65 percent) vs. non-college white men (36 percent).
Support for banning assault weapons soars to 66 percent in the Northeast, vs. the mid-40s elsewhere. It’s somewhat higher in big cities and suburbs than in rural areas and small cities, 51 vs. 43 percent. And it’s a hugely political and ideological issue; 74 percent of liberals and 71 percent of Democrats support a ban, vs. support in the mid-40s among moderates and independents, dropping to about three in 10 conservatives and Republicans. At the widest gap, support ranges from 83 percent among liberal Democrats to 26 percent among conservative Republicans.
In attitudes on whether problems with mental health screening or gun laws are chiefly at fault in mass shootings, men are more apt than women to cite mental health surveillance (62 vs. 53 percent), as are whites vs. nonwhites (62 vs. 48 percent). Political and ideological differences again are sweeping; 80 percent of Republicans chiefly blame mental health screening and treatment; 62 percent of independents agree, dropping to 33 percent of Democrats. In the 2016 red states, 64 percent mainly blame the mental health system; in the blue states, 47 percent.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Feb. 15 to Feb. 18, 2018, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 808 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 4.0 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 31-24-40 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by SSRS of Glen Mills, Pa. See details on the survey’s methodology here.