Americans overwhelmingly see gun violence as a serious problem but divide on government action to address it. They also largely see mass shootings as more of an issue of challenges in mental health care than inadequate gun control.
The public splits 46-47 percent on what should receive the higher priority: enacting new laws to try to reduce gun violence, or protecting the right to own guns. That’s narrowed from a 52-40 percent preference for new laws in April 2013, four months after the Sandy Hook shootings.
One reason is that 63 percent see mass shootings as more a reflection of problems in identifying and treating people with mental health problems than as the outcome of inadequate gun control -– a view expressed by many gun rights advocates.
These attitudes relate closely to priorities. Among people who see mass shootings as a mental health issue, just 30 percent prioritize enacting new anti-gun violence laws, while 62 percent prefer protecting gun rights. Among those who see shootings as a reflection of inadequate gun control, by contrast, 79 percent want more laws against gun violence, while only 18 percent say it’s more important to protect the right to own guns.
Regardless, previous polling has found overwhelming support for some additional gun control laws. An ABC/Post poll in April 2013 found 86 percent support for background checks on people buying guns at gun shows or online. And a January 2011 survey found 83 percent support for federal funding of a system intended to prevent people who’ve been treated for mental illness from buying guns.
Further, 82 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, call gun violence a serious problem, with six in 10 saying it’s very serious. Nine people were killed and the gunman left dead in one of the latest mass shooting incidents, Oct. 1 at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
Views on gun control are highly politicized. Seven in 10 Democrats prefer enacting new gun laws while the same share of Republicans prioritize protecting gun rights. Independents divide more narrowly, 50-43 percent for gun rights vs. gun laws.
Eighty-two percent of Republicans, moreover, blame mass shootings on mental health care failures rather than inadequate gun control; it’s 65 percent among independents and much lower among Democrats, 46 percent. Partisans also differ on the urgency of gun violence; three-quarters of Democrats call it a “very” serious problem, vs. 42 percent of Republicans.
These differences are similar across ideological groups. Preference for new anti-gun violence laws over protecting gun ownership is highest among liberals, at 68 percent, and bottoms out among strong conservatives, at 21 percent.
Among other groups, concerns about gun violence peak among blacks; 94 percent call gun violence a serious problem, 65 percent favor anti-gun violence laws and 43 percent say mass shootings are more about inadequate gun control than mental health. The corresponding numbers among whites are 78, 39 and 15 percent, respectively. Gun violence concerns also are higher in urban areas, among women and among more-educated Americans.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Oct. 15-18, 2015, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the survey’s design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-24-39 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 Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y. See details on the survey’s methodology here.