A Majority of Americans Favor Stricter Gun Laws in the Wake of Mass Shootings

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By Glynn Wilson

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., a majority of Americans, 58 percent, say they favor strengthening laws restricting the sale of firearms, according to the latest Gallup poll on the subject.

That’s up from 43 percent in 2011. In fact, support for stricter gun laws is the highest Gallup has measured since January 2004, although support was even higher in the 1990s.


Gallup’s last survey of Americans’ attitudes toward new gun laws came in October 2011. Since then, there have been several other mass shootings in the U.S., including one in July at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 dead and more than 50 wounded. More recently, a gunman killed his boss and four others at a factory in Minneapolis in September, and in August a U.S. Army veteran opened fire in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six.

Perhaps as a result of these events, the new poll also finds that a record-high 47 percent of Americans favor passing new gun laws, up from 35 percent in 2011.

Two aspects of the Newtown shooting that have been a focal point of recent discussions about gun laws are the semi-automatic rifle and high-capacity ammunition magazines used by the shooter. Several state and federal lawmakers have already announced that they will seek to ban both from the commercial market.

Nevertheless, Americans’ views on the sale of assault rifles are largely unchanged. A slight majority, 51 percent, remain opposed to making it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns, also known as assault rifles. The 44 percent in favor of assault rifle bans in response is barely higher than the 42 percent found favoring assault and semi-automatic bans Dec. 18.

A significantly higher percentage of Americans — 62 percent — do favor banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, generally defined as those that contain more than 10 rounds. Also, nearly all Americans — now 92 percent, up from 83 percent in 1999 — favor laws that require people attempting to purchase guns at gun shows, including gun dealers, to undergo background checks.

Despite the willingness of Americans to strengthen gun laws in the wake of Sandy Hook and other deadly mass shootings, however, public opposition to a broad ban on the possession of handguns stands at a record-high 74 percent. Conversely, the 24 percent in favor is the lowest recorded since Gallup first asked the question in 1959.

Bottom Line

“Americans favor new legislation to limit gun sales, presumably to help prevent the kind of gun violence that became all too familiar in 2012,” Gallup concludes in its analysis of the public opinion survey data. “This is seen in increased support for making the laws covering the sale of firearms more strict, and for passing new gun laws.

“However,” Gallup acknowledges, “views toward banning semi-automatic guns or assault rifles are unchanged, and — possibly reflecting Americans’ desire to defend themselves given the rash of high-profile gun violence — a record-high 74 percent oppose preventing anyone but the police or other authorized officials from owning a handgun.”

In it’s analysis of the survey, the Washington Post concludes that this “is a near-perfect example of why passing gun control legislation will be difficult.”

“And as the gun debate heats up in the coming weeks, these numbers should serve as a reminder that the American people will almost definitely like the idea of new gun control laws more than the actual laws themselves. Which makes this a very difficult issue for Congress to legislate.”

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 19-22, with a random sample of 1,038 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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