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Poll Shows Increased Support For Gun Control Measures In The Wake Of Las Vegas

Gun Flag

A new poll taken in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas shows a majority of Americans supporting some elements of gun control, but it’s unlikely to lead to significant legislative action anytime in the near future:

A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows that a majority of voters support stricter gun control laws in the wake of last week’s mass murder of 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas by a single man with nearly two dozen firearms shooting from the window of his 32nd-floor hotel room.

On most of the proposals to regulate gun ownership — including background checks, restrictions on where Americans can carry firearms and prohibitions against accessories like the “bump fire” stocks used by the Las Vegas gunman — large majorities express support in the poll, conducted last Thursday through Monday.

But despite those findings, voters still don’t think the chances are high that Congress will act to strengthen federal firearm laws, even after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. And slightly more voters still say it’s more important to protect Americans’ right to own guns than it is, in general, to limit gun ownership.

Sixty-four percent of voters support stricter gun laws, the poll shows, including 41 percent who strongly support them. Less than 3-in-10 voters, 29 percent, oppose stricter gun laws, including 16 percent in strong opposition.

That’s a slight increase in support from June of this year, when 61 percent of voters backed stricter gun laws and 33 percent opposed them.

Democratic voters are overwhelmingly supportive of new gun laws: Eighty-three percent back stricter laws, compared with only 12 percent who oppose them. Among independents, 58 percent support stricter gun control, and a third oppose them.

But the poll also finds some less-likely groups are closely split. Forty-nine percent of Republican voters support stricter gun control laws, and 45 percent oppose them. Among voters who said they supported Donald Trump in last year’s election, 46 percent are in favor of stricter gun laws and 48 percent are opposed.

A 55 percent majority of gun owners back new restrictions, while 41 percent oppose them.

Seventy-nine percent of voters support banning the use of bump fire stocks — the device the Las Vegas shooter used to modify a dozen of his semi-automatic weapons to fire hundreds of rounds per minute. Only 13 percent of voters oppose banning bump fire stocks.

A number of specific proposals garner significant public support, with more than eight in 10 voters backing required background checks on all gun sales (88 percent), preventing sales of all firearms to people who have been reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental-health provider (87 percent), making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks (84 percent), preventing those convicted of violent misdemeanors from buying guns (83 percent) and barring gun purchases by those on the federal “no fly” or terrorist watch lists (82 percent).

“The results of this survey demonstrate there is support for at least some new gun control measures, even if support for whole-scale reform is murkier,” said Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer. “Sixty-four percent of voters, including 49 percent of Republicans, support stricter gun laws. There are also individual proposals that receive even broader backing, such as 84 percent support for closing the gun show loophole.”

Other proposals earning majority support: requiring all owners to store their guns in a safe storage unit (77 percent), creating a national database for each gun sale (76 percent), requiring a three-day waiting period for gun purchases (76 percent), banning assault-style weapons (72 percent), banning high-capacity magazines (72 percent), prohibiting Americans from carrying guns at schools and on college campuses (69 percent), limiting Americans to one firearms purchase per month (69 percent), limiting ammunition purchases (69 percent) and banning firearms from all workplace settings (59 percent).

This chart provides a breakdown of the specific proposals that the poll asked about: (click to enlarge)

Gun Control Poll 101117

Looking deeper into the poll, we find that despite broad support for a number of measures that gun control advocates have been suggesting for years, most Americans don’t think it’s likely that Congress will act on many of them, assuming it takes any action at all. Only 26% of those surveyed say that they believe that there is an “excellent” or “good” chance that Congress will pass stricter gun control laws within the next year, while roughly 25% say the chances are fair and 38% are “poor.” Respondents were also divided over which party they trust more on gun policy, with 39% saying they trust Democrats and 38% trust Republicans, with the remaining 23% being undecided. Also significant is the fact that 47% of respondents think its more important to protect gun rights while 42% say that limiting gun ownership should be a more important priority. That last statistic breaks down as expected on partisan grounds, with 70% of Republicans saying its more important to protect gun rights, while only 25% of Democrats believe this. On the issue of limiting gun ownership, meaning 63% of Democrats say this should be the priority issue when it comes to national gun policy while 23% of Republicans agree with them. Among Independents, 49% say they believe protecting gun rights should be the priority, while 36% say the priority should be limiting gun ownership.

Notwithstanding this increased support for some gun control measures, it is unlikely that even the Las Vegas shooting, which was both the worst mass shooting in American history and the worst deliberate mass casualty event since the September 11th attacks, will lead to either significant political action on the national level or the kind of change in voter behavior that would lead to this issue becoming a significant priority for Congress or the President.We have seen poll numbers like this before in the wake of other mass shooting events that have occurred over the past decade or more, and none of them have resulted in significant action in Congress or had significant political consequences for legislators who opposed such measures. The most notable example of this, of course, occurred in the wake of the shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Quite understandably, the image of the results of such an attack at a school, with so many of the victims being young children led many Americans to at least temporarily say that they supported stronger gun control laws. Even then, though, it was clear from polls where the question was asked that gun control was not a high priority issue even among the people supporting measures such as stricter background checks or the outright banning of certain kinds of so-called “assault weapons.” Additionally, as time went on and the memory of Sandy Hook and other shootings that made the headlines faded, the priority that voters gave to that issue faded as voters turned their attention back to the issues that have long motivated voters the most when deciding who to vote for such as the state of the economy, health care, and terrorism.  In the specific case of the Sandy Hook shooting, polling within three months of the tragedy was already showing that gun control was slipping as a priority for voters and, within a year after the shooting, support for most gun control measures had fallen off to the levels they were at prior to the shooting. By the second anniversary of Sandy Hook, polling was showing that more Americans supported protecting gun rights than passing new gun control measures. One year later, near the third anniversary of the tragedy, polling showed a majority of Americans opposing a ban on the type of weapon used in the Sandy Hook shooting,

All of this brings to mind something Kevin Drum wrote in the wake of the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks, in the Senate:

about 80 percent of those Americans think it sounds like a reasonable idea but don’t really care much. I doubt that one single senator will suffer at the polls in 2014 for voting against Manchin-Toomey.

Gun control proposals poll decently all the time. But the plain truth is that there are only a small number of people who feel really strongly about it, and they mostly live in urban blue districts already. Outside of that, pro-gun control opinion is about an inch deep. This is a classic case where poll literalism leads you completely astray. Without measuring intensity of feeling, that 90 percent number is meaningless.

I made a similar observation at the time:

Even at the height of the post-Newtown political push, only 6% of Americans considered gun control the most important problem facing the nation. That’s a far cry from the vast majority of voters who say that they support the various gun control measures that have been advocated over the past four months.

This isn’t the first indication that gun control is a low intensity issue among American voters.  Back in January, just one month after Newtown, a similar Gallup poll showed the same results that we see in this month’s release. At that time, I predicted that it would be difficult for gun control advocates to get the most ambitious parts of their agenda through even the Senate, but I thought at the time that at least something would be passed. In part, I thought this because it seemed as though the post-Newtown attention paid to the issue was going to make it inevitable and that a low-priority issue like background checks would be something that Congress could pass to make it appear that they’re doing something, even though in reality the Manchin/Toomey bill would have done little to stop the massacres that have garnered much attention over the years. As it turned out, the politics of the issue were far more complicated, and public intensity on the issue of gun control was far less than many thought it might be after the events of Newtown.

Once you understand where the politics of gun control actually stand, the behavior of Republicans and red state Democrats becomes completely understandable.

Drum’s prediction regarding the 2014 elections and the impact of voting against Manchin-Toomey proved to be accurate, of course, as there was no indication at the time that a vote against the Manchin-Toomey bill played a role in the fate of any of the incumbents who lost that year, or that it played any significant role at all. Additionally, exit polling at the time indicated that guns were very low on the list of issues that voters cited as being the most important in deciding who they ended up voting for, something that we also saw in similar polling in 2010, 2012, and 2016. Other polling indicated that among the voters who said the issue was more important to them than to voters as a whole, supporters of gun rights who opposed additional gun control measures were more likely to cite guns as an issue that they based their vote on than supporters of gun control were. This was especially true among Republican and Independent voters, and even more true in states where Republican Senators who had voted against Manchin-Toomey were up for re-election.

There’s every reason to believe that we’ll see something similar in response to the shooting in Las Vegas. While the issue of gun control has slipped back into the consciousness of voters in the week since that tragedy, the most likely thing that we’ll see in future surveys over the coming months is that support will fall back as the memory of the shooting starts to fade and public attention turns to other issues. This will be especially true if there is a flare-up in international tensions over the events in and around North Korea or any of the other hotspots in the world where American interests are seemingly under threat these days. Additionally, events going on in the background such as the Russia investigations and other issues will likely start re-entering the headlines in the near future, and that will lead voters to switch their attention back to the issues that are traditionally considered high-priority. This has been the course that the political debate over gun control has followed for at least the past twenty-five years or more, and it’s likely to repeat itself this time around as well. An additional factor that should pour the cold water of reality on advocates for stricter gun control measures is the fact that polling has consistently shown strong support for gun rights among the public as a whole that makes any kind of radical change in gun laws highly unlikely Failure to recognize that reality means that strong advocates of gun control will continue to be disappointed by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any single event that can cause their agenda to advance outside of the bluest of the blue states where Democrats control the state government. Outside of those small numbers of states, though, the prospect for gun control in the wake of Las Vegas is as unlikely as it has ever been.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    preventing those convicted of violent misdemeanors from buying guns (83 percent)

    What qualifies as a violent misdemeanor? Disorderly conduct? Resisting arrest?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    You’re not that obtuse …

    but since this seems to involve the need for lawyerspeak:

    A misdemeanor crime of violence includes any misdemeanor conviction involving the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense. Crimes of violence constituting a misdemeanor may include but are not limited to, assault, battery, stalking, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing offenses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I’ll add (and I believe this observation has been made on here by others in the past) that the definitive moment when I knew that there was no hope for actually meaningful regulation of firearms in the US was the moment when America responded to a massacre of schoolchildren with a collective shrug. Everything since has just been repetition of that sequence of events.

    They care more about their guns than they do about human lives beyond the scope of those directly known to them. The only thing you can do with a society like that is to remove yourself to a place of safety and then allow it to destroy itself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  4. KM says:

    Well, yeah. This one hit home in a way the others didn’t – this shooter coulda been Joe down the street. That’s why all the rumors about ISIS, antifa and other “other” tags are getting tossed about. They’re very uneasy that without someone to shift blame to, they’re going to get hit with the same kind of restrictions they normally scream for “to keep us safe”.

    Bump stocks are an easy give away. You can shoot without them – most people do so it’s no real loss for them other then a “freedom” they think they are losing. Honestly most owners and pro-2nd Amend people could care less beyond the fact that they are giving ground, even if it’s pointless ground. Bump stocks serve no real purpose and can easily be argued to be intentionally subversive to the rule of law by design.

    If they were smart, they let them be banned and walk away letting libs think they won something. They won’t though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Paul Hooson says:

    The problem is an item such as a “bump fire” stock can be easily homemade at home by cutting down a curtain rod and bending one end to rest against the shoulder while the other end is attached to the trigger, so that the recoil action will cause the gun to spray out bullets at a near machine gun rate. The principle to use the recoil to fire in this manner is too simple and can applied to any semiautomatic weapon. New gun control laws are not likely to ban the existing supply of semiautomatic weapons that already exist or ban common hardware items like curtain rods or springs.

    Even human urine can be dried out and made into gun powder, and common garden supply items and diesel oil can be made into high explosives. Gun control is far more idealistic than many realize, add to this the powerful NRA lobby in Congress, which have already defeated many gun control advocates in many districts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  6. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    the definitive moment when I knew that there was no hope for actually meaningful regulation of firearms in the US was the moment when America responded to a massacre of schoolchildren with a collective shrug.

    This!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. gVOR08 says:

    I’d like to disagree with you, Doug. I really, really would like to disagree. But I can’t.

    There’s a small chance we might see a ban on bump stocks. It’s the least congress can do. The very least.

    There is a sickness in this country. Not gun owners generally, not even a lot of gun enthusiasts, who poll in favor of many of the reasonable actions on this list. But the extreme gun culture, the NRA and other organizations, and congressional Republicans are sick. As HL92 notes, a healthy society would not shrug their shoulders over children being massacred in schools. Australia reacted effectively to much less.

    If we work our way out of this, it’s going to take a lot of time. As Reynolds used to argue, it requires a culture shift. This is slowly happening. We are seeing a smaller percentage of households owning guns. Most of us feel sick over these multiple shooting incidents. And we need to elect Democrats who will appoint judges who haven’t been brainwashed by movement conservatives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  8. reid says:

    @gVOR08: There’s a broader societal sickness at work here, I’d say (and you hinted at it, I understand). It’s the same sickness that allows a substantial number of people to still approve of the president, a man who is clearly unfit for the office. This is the result of 40 or more years of politicization and radicalization. Russian bots, fake news, rightwing radio, Fox news and “conservative news”… it’s all brought us to this sad point. The gun issue is one facet of it, but surely every gun nut will also be screaming about “libtards” and “Obummer”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  9. Gene Ralno says:

    Scientists and politicians have scrutinized, analyzed, hypothesized, theorized and politicized this issue for decades. They’ve reinterpreted the many tomes on this issue. They’ve redefined basic terms and invented from whole cloth new rationale. And today, what we have is a mountain of literature that supports the leftist agenda. It saved no lives. It made us no safer. In fact, we experienced periods and places that made it clear that a disarmed society was less safe. Consequently, responsible elected leaders agreed to end government propaganda and leave the issue to law enforcement and private citizens.

    These guys don’t give a hoot about the nuts and felons. What they really want is to keep tabs on transfers between mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors. They’re after inheritances, bequeathals and gifts. They’re also after the sales of inherited collections, however small they are. Briefly, their goal is to disarm the public within one generation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  10. Mikey says:

    @Gene Ralno:

    Briefly, their goal is to disarm the public within one generation.

    Briefly, bullshit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1