Mental Health Measures Broadly Backed, but Culture Gets More Blame Than Guns

ByABC News
April 23, 2007, 1:18 PM

April 23, 2007— -- After the Virginia Tech shootings, vast numbers of Americans support policy changes, including stricter measures to prevent mentally ill people from buying guns and better efforts by universities to identify and counsel disturbed students.

Basic attitudes on gun control, though, remain unchanged, and the public stays sharply divided on the effectiveness of gun laws, with far more citing cultural and social influences as the main causes of gun violence. Nonetheless, 83 percent in this ABC News poll support steps to ensure that states report mentally ill people to the federal gun-sales registry, a measure that might have blocked the Virginia Tech shooter from buying his weapons.

Just as many, 84 percent, support requiring universities to provide stricter screening and counseling for students they suspect of being mentally ill and posing a possible danger to themselves or others. And 88 percent favor requiring to notify parents when they suspect a student of suffering from mental illness.

Schools said current anti-discrimination laws leave them little leverage to require students to obtain counseling, and confidentiality laws limit their ability to report concerns about students' mental health to parents. But some movement has begun: President Bush has initiated a federal study of issues raised by the Virginia Tech tragedy. And lawmakers said Sunday they'd push legislation to provide the states with money to update the instant-check gun registry with the names of people judged to be mentally ill.

Also, in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, a majority of Americans, 69 percent, worry that this kind of attack could happen in their own community -- that is, they said it's at least somewhat likely. (Fewer, about a quarter, call it "very" likely.)

Basic attitudes on gun control have not moved significantly after previous notorious gun crimes, and the same holds true now. Overall, 61 percent favor stricter gun control in general --