Poll Shows Increased Support For Gun Control Measures, But Will It Last?

In the wake of the back-to-back shootings in Texas and Ohio, a new poll shows increased support for some gun control measures. But we've been here before.

With the twin shooting incidents in El Paso and Dayton still fresh in the public mind, a new poll shows what appears to be broad support for several types of gun control laws, but it’s unclear if it will lead to action at the Federal level:

Most Republicans would support legislation banning assault-style weapons, a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found Wednesday — a finding that contradicts President Donald Trump’s claim earlier the same day that there’s “no political appetite” for such restrictions.

The poll found that nearly 70 percent of all voters would back such a ban. Support for an assault-weapons ban was higher, at 86 percent, among Democrats, who have been pushing for new restrictions on the firearms in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend.

Republicans typically are more reticent to support new gun restrictions, and Trump campaigned in 2016 on his strong support for the Second Amendment. But the poll found that 55 percent of GOP voters were comfortable with banning assault weapons, and 54 percent said they would support stricter gun laws more generally. Ninety percent said they would back universal background checks for gun sales.

Only 23 percent of all voters oppose an assault weapons ban, the poll found.

The poll was conducted Aug. 5-7, in the immediate aftermath of two mass shootings. A lone gunman opened fire Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people. Then, early Sunday morning, another gunman murdered nine people in Dayton, Ohio.

In the past, support for strengthening gun laws has spiked in surveys from POLITICO/Morning Consult and other pollsters after mass shootings. Support typically recedes in the weeks after the attacks, though many of the measures being proposed in the wake of this weekend’s shootings remain broadly — and, in some cases, overwhelmingly — popular even outside these temporal surges.

Overall, 73 percent of voters support stricter gun laws, the poll shows — up from 67 percent in the spring of 2018. The remaining 27 percent oppose stricter gun laws. Majorities of Democrats (91 percent), Republicans (54 percent) and independents (70 percent) support stricter gun laws.

Voters almost unanimously want mandatory universal background checks on gun purchasers. More than 91 percent support requiring background checks for all gun sales. Only 5 percent of voters oppose background checks.

While Trump poured cold water Wednesday on a possible assault weapons ban, he said he was optimistic background-check legislation could reach his desk, despite past congressional inaction on the issue.

“There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks. And I think we can bring up background checks like we’ve never had before,” Trump said. “I think both Republican[s] and Democrat[s] are getting close to a bill on — to doing something with background checks.”

But a number of other proposed measures are also very popular, the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows: 89 percent of voters want to block gun sales to people who have been reported as dangerous to law enforcement by mental health providers. Only 6 percent of voters oppose those restrictions.

Eighty-four percent of voters want to prevent people convicted of violent misdemeanors from purchasing guns. A similar percentage, 83 percent, support limiting gun purchases to those 21 and older. Eighty percent think there should be a mandatory three-day waiting period before someone can take home a gun. And 72 percent support banning high-capacity magazines.

While this last poll may give some hope to advocates for gun control, it’s worth noting that voters saying that gun policy is important to them in deciding whether to support a candidate applies to virtually all demographic groups, including those that are less inclined to support gun control measures. Additionally, as I’ve noted in the past, we’ve seen increases in perceived support for gun control measures after other mass shooting incidents only to find that this increase in support is short-lived and that it ends up having little impact at the policy level and almost no impact on the outcome of elections.

For example, in the wake of the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, which has led to a wave of political activism on the part of young people, we saw polling that showed strong support for increased gun control, including measures such as enhanced background checks and a ban on so-called “assault weapons.” That support waned fairly quickly, though, and polling in both April and May of last year showed support waning. While the Florida shooting did result in the passage of some measures, such as new laws in Florida that made it easier to take guns away from people who pose a threat to others, and moves to increase the minimum age to purchase a rifles to 21, there were no significant moves on the national level and little indication from exit polling that gun control issues played a big role in the outcome of the midterm elections. 

Additionally, polling indicated increased support for certain gun control measures in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October 2017 that resulted in the death of 59 people and more than eight hundred injured, making it the worse such event in American history. Despite this, there was no movement on the issue in Congress on even the seemingly straightforward idea of banning bump stocks, the devices which allow semi-automatic weapons to act as if they are fully automatic.  Ultimately, it took the Trump Administration until December 2018 to issue an administrative ruling banning bump stocks that may or may not survive a future court challenge.

We saw the same thing happen after the shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In the immediate aftermath of the attack that resulted in the death of 27, including many young children, many Americans voiced support for stricter gun control laws. Even in the wake of that horrific tragedy, though, it was clear from those same polls that gun control was not a high priority issue even when it came to issues such as stricter background checks or banning so-called “assault weapons.”  Inevitably, as time passed and the memory of Sandy Hook or other similar mass shooting events faded into memory, the polls showed support for stricter gun control began to fade. Within three months of Sandy Hook, for example, polling was already showing that gun control was slipping as a priority for voters. Within a year after the shooting, support for most gun control measures had fallen back levels they were at prior to the shooting. By the second anniversary of Sandy Hook, polling indicated that more Americans supported protecting gun rights than passing new gun control measures. By the time of 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, If history is any guide, then this is what is likely to happen this time as well. Indeed, as more than one political analyst has noted, if the deaths of more than 20 first graders wasn’t going to lead to changes in American gun laws nothing will. 

All of this brings to mind something Kevin Drum wrote in the wake of the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which was put before the Senate mere months after the Sandy Hook shooting That bill would have expanded background checks and purported to close other loopholes in the background check system, It also happened to be an issue that enjoyed at the time, and continues to enjoy, widespread public support even among Republicans, conservatives, and gun owners:

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.

As I have said, before, it’s possible that this time will be different, that the shock of two mass shootings so close in time together will lead to increased political pressure that causes Congress to act on politically popular measures like enhanced background checks and other measures that might actually play a helpful role in stopping mass shootings rather than largely symbolic mesures that won’t really address the problem and may not withstand court scrutiny. If history is any guide, though, we’ll talk about doing things until the next big thing happens, as it inevitably will, at which point public attention will again be diverted and support for gun control will return to historic norms. 

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mattbernius says:

    Barring that there are no additional mass shootings on the scale of Daton and El Paso for the next month or two, my bet is McConnell runs out the clock on this one. He’s already signalling that he isn’t on the same page as Trump.

    At best we’ll get a fig leaf from him, but I am doubtful about even that.

  2. JKB says:

    Well, the efficacy of conceal carry was demonstrated in the guy stopped and held for police by an individual carrying a firearm at a Walmart in Missouri yesterday.

    Answering poll question is cheap and in today’s climate not somewhere to express opinions pollsters and the media disagree with. On the other hand, firearms are not cheap, require specific action to purchase and sales have increased.

    Gun sales are surging after the weekend mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, fueled by first-time buyers seeking pistols they can carry with them for protection.

    The latest jump validated a big increase in purchases and background checks recorded by the FBI that show the four most recent months higher than the same months in 2018.

    Of course, it doesn’t help the gun grabber cause when they seek to exploit shootings, ignoring the shootings, including two mass shootings in Chicago (7 dead, 53 injured over the weekend), while Democrats holding national office are doxing voters inviting attack on them, Democrats in media are calling for extermination of Trump supporters, mobs form calling for the Senate Majority leader to be stabbed, etc.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    No–nothing will happen. Because we’ve got too many people who LUUUVE their guns, no matter how many people die. Not even their own kids getting killed turn these guys off from their addiction.

  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    We couldn’t galvanize our resolve after shooting up a bunch of white suburban kindergarteners; what makes us think JKBs side won’t prevail this time too?

  5. Jason says:

    A comprehensive look at Gun control. Great read


  6. Jojn says:
  7. Kev says:

    A comprehensive look at gun control. Must read


  8. Jake says:

    Mass murder is not a gun control problem.

    In 2003, Kim Dae-han, a middle-aged taxi driver, killed 192 people and left 151 others wounded, by setting a South Korean subway train on fire using paint cans filled with gasoline. In 2016, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, a Muslim terrorist, killed 86 people and wounded 458 others by ramming a truck into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in France. In 2001, Muslim terrorists killed 2,977 people and injured 6,000 more, by using box cutters to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings.

    Guns are a tool. There are a whole lot of other devastating ways to kill lots of people.

    American mass killers often use guns because they’re convenient and available. There are plenty of alternatives like trucks, boxcutters, pressure cooker bombs and paint cans full of gasoline.

    Mass murder isn’t caused by the tools you use. The Nazis were not inspired to kill Jews by the invention of Zyklon B. The Japanese did not decide to kill hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians because of the availability of airplanes. The Soviet Communists did not commit their acts of mass murder because their arms stockpiles didn’t need a waiting period to obtain machine guns for their mass shootings.

    Murder is not a technical problem. It’s a moral problem. It happens because of internal decisions made in the mind, not external tools. The tools are used to implement the decisions of the mind.

    A society with mass murder is experiencing a moral problem.

    America’s moral problem is more complex than that of Nazi Germany or its Communist counterparts. We don’t have a government that is actively killing people. Instead we have a government that has made it easy for killers to operate by dismantling the criminal justice and immigration systems, making it very difficult to stop the three primary categories of killers, gang members, terrorists and the insane.

    And media corporations have been allowed to glamorize killers who seek fame through massacres.

    Gun controllers insist that the Founding Fathers never anticipated the problem of mass shooters. That’s probably true. But they would have also never tolerated the conditions that brought them into being, a permissive criminal justice system, a failure to institutionalize the mentally ill, and a media that promotes these acts of violence under the guise of condemning them and clamoring for gun control.

    The America of the Bill of Rights could have had modern weapons without constant mass shootings.

    The Founding Fathers understood that murder was not a technical problem, a matter of tools, but a moral problem. The Bill of Rights was meant for a moral society. It cannot function in an immoral one.

    “Government would be defective in its principal purpose were it not to restrain such criminal acts, by inflicting due punishments on those who perpetrate them,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in a Virginia criminal justice bill submitted a few years after authoring the Declaration of Independence.

    It is not the purpose of government to control weapons, but to control criminals.

    Western countries have instead focused on controlling guns, while failing to control criminals. This has led to absurdities such as ‘knife control’ in the UK and public bollards to control car rammings. Flying has become an experience once relegated to traveling to Communist dictatorships. Gun control measures encourage doctors to inform on their patients. Schools implement zero tolerance for pocket knives.

    When criminals aren’t locked up, then everyone ends up in jail.

    When we fail to lock up criminals, society becomes a prison. When we don’t institutionalize the insane, then society becomes the insane asylum. When we don’t stop foreign gangs and terrorists from entering our country, then we wake up to realize that we are living in El Salvador, Mexico, Pakistan or Iraq.

    A moral society locks up dangerous people while a progressive society locks up everyone.

    Gun control is a sensible measure in a society where criminals, madmen and terrorists freely roam the streets. This attempt to turn society into a prison won’t work because of the problem of scale. You can prevent guns from entering a prison of thousands of people, but not a country of millions.

    “We should be more like Europe,” the gun controllers say.

    But then why are French and Belgian soldiers deployed across major cities after Islamic terrorists carried out attacks with heavy firepower that killed over a hundred people? You can get a ‘military weapon’ in the capital of the European Union for $1,000 in under an hour. Gun control doesn’t work there. Or here.

    There are two ways to cope with mass shootings and killings.

    We can work to turn our societies into giant prisons in the hopes of impeding that 0.1% of the population which is inclined to violence over drugs, deranged fantasies or the Koran from shooting up malls, ramming cars into crowds, setting off pressure cooker bombs or flying planes into skyscrapers.

    Or we can get rid of that 0.1% and actually have a free and safe society.

    We’ve tried turning our country into a giant prison while failing to protect our borders, crack down on gangs or stop the psychos. And the experiment has devastated virtually every major city, cost tens of thousands of lives, made flying miserable, and brought our country to the brink of destruction.

    Maybe we ought to try common sense instead.

    Either that or we can pass the latest raft of “common sense” gun control laws that haven’t worked before while letting every Islamic terrorist and Latin American gang member enter the country, while letting every Chicago gang continue fighting its feuds, and while letting every deranged monster plot an attack while ignoring the warning signs until it’s too late. Surely gun control will stop all of them.

    Every single one.

    Constitutional conservatives often echo, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” But they neglect the obvious corollary. “Don’t lock up the guns, lock up the killers.”

    Murder is a moral problem.

    When societies such as Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan kill, it’s everyone’s moral problem. But when societies such as ours enable killers by failing to restrain them, that’s also true. A society engaging in mass murder has to remove its leaders. But a society where mass killers operate has to restore its morality by removing those, as Jefferson put it, “whose existence is become inconsistent with the safety of their fellow citizens.” Their existence is physically inconsistent because it’s morally inconsistent.

    What unites mass killers, the terrorists and the psychos, the Neo-Nazis and the Antifas, the gang members and the drug dealers, is that their moral outlook is completely incompatible with ours.

    Some criminals don’t have a moral outlook at all. Mentally ill killers may be so out of contact with reality that they are incapable of having a moral outlook. And terrorists have their own moral outlook, but one which would turn our society into a killing field and prison overseen by Islamists, Nazis or Communists.

    The Left insists that we ought to take away guns and other freedoms equally from everyone.

    We all ought to live in prison. Or none of us should live in a prison.

    And we’ve tried it their way for three generations. We’ve built walls everywhere except around our borders. We share our communities with criminals and the insane. Every house has an alarm system. There may be as many as a million law enforcement officers in the United States. Are we better off?

    The first prerequisite to any morality is understanding that actions originate within individuals. The Left is hopelessly immoral because it believes that actions originate within external social conditions. It insists that murder is caused by the social conditions of capitalism, the gun industry or poverty. It justifies its own massacres as attempts to remedy the social conditions of capitalism by force.

    That’s why murder thrives under leftist governments, whether in Venezuela or Chicago.

    If we want to stop mass killings, we have to restore a moral society based on individual responsibility. The alternative is living in one giant progressive prison with the killers, the psychos and the terrorists.

    Either we control the criminals or we lose all control over our own lives.

    The moral equation of murder wasn’t altered by the technology of the automatic weapon. The most ancient societies in the world have known how to deal with it. We chose to forget.

    When Cain slew his brother with a rock, G-d drove him out of the civilized lands.

    G-d did not ban rocks. He banned murderers.

    If we want to stop killings, mass or singular, we have to drive our own Cains out of our civilization. Or reconcile ourselves to living in a society where Cain has a gun and Abel is always on the run.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve assessed your comment. Chemical analysis indicates 60% lies, 20% sheer stoopid, and the rest just random bits of racism.

  10. Franklin says:

    So I haven’t pulled the trigger on anything real since someone let me fire a shotgun more than three decades ago. Fast forward to today, and I signed up to take one beginner’s session at the local indoor gun range. Just a half hour of safety and stuff, then 50 rounds. Is this a bad idea? I think it will be fun, but also I just want to have a basic understanding into the culture. Will I get that from one session? Probably not, but maybe I’ll go back another time, bring the kids, whatever.

  11. Kathy says:

    The big obstacle is the oodles of money the NRA buys GOP legislative votes with.

    Plus a significant amount of GOP base voters who’d sit out elections if even the most popular, sensible measures are taken.

  12. JKB says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You might want to call the techs to run some diagnostics. Your calibrations are way off. Did you get whacked in the brain box or maybe you picked up bit of bad data in your config files.

  13. wr says:

    @Jake: Wow, that’s a lot of words to say… exactly nothing. Hey, here’s the answer to gun-murders — get rid of the murderers before they do it!!!

    We all eagerly away your 9,000 word follow-up explaining how precisely one goes about doing that.

  14. wr says:

    @JKB: ” Your calibrations are way off”

    For once I agree with you. What you posted is actually about 90% stupid and 10% evil.

    Glad I could come to your defense.

  15. mattbernius says:

    Nice copypasta of someone else’s work:


    It’s written by one of David Horowitz’s proteges.

  16. Teve says:

    @mattbernius: Jake picked, to plagiarize from, the guy who wrote a book called “Barack Obama’s Unholy Alliance: A Romance with Islamism”.

    High-quality stuff there.

  17. mattbernius says:

    gotta love how the guy that people who afraid of Sharia law go to is someone who can’t bring himself to write the “o” in God because it’s offensive to his conservative religious beliefs.

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Jake: Well, going by the profile of what we’ve seen of people who go nuts with guns and shoot up people, we have the following:
    1) Male;
    2) White;
    3) Young;
    4) Loners;
    5) With a history of violence against women.

    So therefore, by your own argument, I guess we should take all young white men who are loners and who have a violence of history against women and lock them up. No due process, no worries, nothin’. Just go find them and lock them up, because obviously they’re dangerous to the rest of society.

    Fine. Let’s go do it. Oh, gee, you ended up getting scooped up as well? I guess that’s too bad, isn’t it? I’m sure you’re willing to sacrifice yourself.

  19. Kathy says:

    Suppose we made gun ownership mandatory for all adults over the age of 18, with no restrictions at all on firearms.

    Would you really feel safer?

  20. Jax says:

    @Jake: Dude, you didn’t even give credit that someone else wrote that, or provide a link. Bad troll.

  21. Jax says:

    @Kathy: No, because most of the fuckers I’ve seen bitching about “red flag” laws know they’re gonna get flagged. It makes me wonder about how many bodies they’ve actually buried. There are a lot of “missing” people out there, one of the saddest things I’ve ever had to do was look on NAMUS to look for a friend and her tattoo. 🙁

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Mass murder is not a gun control problem.

    American mass killers often use guns because they’re convenient and available.

    If someone refutes his own argument within a few sentences of making it, that argument really isn’t worth much…

  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jason: @Kev: Didn’t you guys post this article the last time gun control was an issue? Also, I notice that it’s from 7 or 8 years ago. Aren’t there any newer arguments out there for you to use?