Support For Gun Control Waning In Wake Of Parkland Shooting

Support for gun control spiked in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting but it appears to be returning to more normal levels, and that's bad news for gun control advocates.

The Huffington Post is noticing something that may well have been inevitable, namely that public support for gun control laws, which spiked after the February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida appears to be waning:

The school shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year launched a new generation of gun control activists, inspired walkouts and marches, and sparked the most substantial ― and long-lasting ― shift in public opinion on guns in recent years. The appetite for gun control appears to have tapered off in the following weeks, but some surveys indicate that some changes in public opinion could endure.

In the more than two months since that shooting, HuffPost and YouGov haveconductedfivesurveystracking Americans’ views on guns. The results show a burst of support for gun reform in the two weeks after the shooting, followed by a gradual reversion to the mean. Once-heightened concerns about gun violence have tapered back to previous levels, as has a desire for stricter gun laws and a belief that gun restrictions can be passed without violating Second Amendment rights.

A few changes in thought, however, seem to have stuck.

The percentage of Americans who believe it’s politically possible to pass gun laws has dropped several points since its high in late February, but it’s still higher than it was in the aftermath of last year’s massacres in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

In the most recent survey, one-fifth of Americans also chose gun policies as one of the two issues they found most important. That remains a noticeable, if modest, uptick from the 13 percent who chose it as a priority following the shooting in Sutherland Springs. Other polling since the Parkland shooting also suggested gun control was carrying greater-than-usual prominence on the campaign trail, although it’s unclear how much of that energy will remain until November.

That public opinion shifted at all in the wake of the shooting was striking. It’s even more striking that it lasted as long as it did. Last year’s shootings, by contrast, appeared to have little effect on Americans’ views about guns.


Another poll from Gallup found that the share of Americans mentioning guns or gun control as the nation’s most important problem dropped from 13 percent in March to 6 percent in April ― a downtick that nevertheless leaves it as one of the highest-ranked national issues. In a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour Marist poll, a slim 53 percent majority of Democratic voters said guns will be a major factor for them in November, down 21 points since February.

This chart shows the changes that have taken place in the HuffPo/YouGov polling on gun control both before and after the Parkland shooting: (click to enlarge)


In the past, mass shooting events have been shown to have little impact on either gun control policy, the legislative agenda in all but a handful of states, or election, The most recent example of that can be found in what happened after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October of last year. This was the worst such event in American history, and in the initial aftermath of the attack, polling showed increased numbers in support of certain gun control measures. Despite this, Congress took no action even on issues as seemingly straightforward as banning bump stocks. By the time we were on the eve of the Parkland shooting, public support for gun control measures, and the importance of the issue in the minds of voters had largely returned to historical norms. The same thing seems to be happening now as we approach the three-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting.

We saw a similar phenomenon in the wake of the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the immediate aftermath of that horrible event that memorably brought tears to the eyes of President Obama, the images that showed not only the number of victims but also the fact that so many of them were very young children led many Americans to tell pollsters that they supported stronger gun control laws. Even in the wake of that horrific attack, though, polls indicated that gun control was not a high priority issue even among those who strongly supported such measures. As time passed and the memory of what happened at Sandy Hook and other similar mass shootings faded, the numbers began to fade. Three months after Sandy Hook, for example, polling showed 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 the shooting, polling showed 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, If history is any guide, this is what is likely to happen this time as well.

This all brings to mind something Kevin Drum that just after the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which was written in the wake of Sandy Hook:

How did this happen even though, as liberals remind us endlessly, 90 percent of the American public supports background checks? Because 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’ve said before, it’s possible that this time, things will be different. The student activists who have stepped forward in the wake of that event, and the adults who support them, have been far more effective at keeping the issue alive than activists have been in the past. Additionally, the fact that they have events similar to the March 24th nationwide protests planned for later in the year suggests that they might be able to keep this issue in the forefront of voters minds much longer than we’ve seen in the past. Whether it will all have an impact on voting behavior, or, looking further down the line, on the action that politicians take at the local, state, or Federal level, though, is a different matter. Historically that has not been the case, and the fact that poll numbers are showing that voter concern about the issue is declining is not a good sign for their cause, and that means that they’re going to have an uphill battle ahead of them presuming they are going to fight at all.

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. James Pearce says:

    they’re going to have an uphill battle ahead of them presuming they are going to fight at all.

    Narrator: They are not going to fight. At all.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    I tell you, I’m as as shocked by this development as I am by the daily news that Trump has lied, dissembled, or completely misrepresented something.

    America’s governing majority and their supporters have no interest in any additional gun regulations, and are in fact very interested in expanding open or concealed carry laws.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Don’t worry, gun control advocates, there will be another mass shooting to bolster your support in the near future.

    (Note to FBI: No, I’m not planning one, and I don’t have any knowledge of any coming mass shootings, beyond the fact that this is America, and we have lots of mass shootings.)

  4. HarvardLaw92 says:

    As long as the NRA exists, this will continue to be the norm.

  5. @HarvardLaw92:

    And, of course, the NRA has as much right to exist and advocate on behalf of its members as any other political or interest group does.

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Somebody is a tad cranky today …

    Of course they do. So do the Nazis and the KKK, but that doesn’t make any of them desirable influences on governmental policy. What does their right to exist have to do – at all – with the validity of the statement?

  7. Tyrell says:

    There was a lot of movement and energy a few months ago, but that hit the wall when they found that many of their ideas were already laws. And any new laws have to work with existing laws. Confidentiality laws concerning patient and doctors cannot be taken away.
    So common sense must prevail when trying to find solutions.

  8. James Pearce says:

    @HarvardLaw92: There is only one reason why the NRA, an unelected advocacy organization, has more power than certain people elected to office….and it’s not because the NRA is so big and bad and powerful.

  9. Mind says:

    100% pure unadulterated B.S. When the SHTF dead liberals and progressives, communists and anarchists will rot in the streets of every city in America. Normal people will finally be able to carry on with their lives peacefully.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    And, of course, the NRA has as much right to exist and advocate on behalf of its members as any other political or interest group does.

    Even if the NRA gets its money from mysterious Russian sources? Lovely…

  11. James Pearce says:


    When the SHTF dead liberals and progressives, communists and anarchists will rot in the streets of every city in America.

    This is exactly why people are pushing for gun control. These murderous fantasies don’t always remain fantasies.

    I mean, the gun hoarders don’t even wait for the shit to hit the fan. They become the shit.

  12. al-Ameda says:


    100% pure unadulterated B.S. When the SHTF dead liberals and progressives, communists and anarchists will rot in the streets of every city in America. Normal people will finally be able to carry on with their lives peacefully.

    Mike Judge directed a movie about the so-called ‘normal people’ who will carry on in your world – “Idiocracy.”

  13. Paul L. says:

    @An Interested Party:
    $2,500 from US citizens in are mysterious Russian sources were instrumental in Trump stealing the election.
    Progressive dark money sugar daddy Center for American Progress also has undisclosed foreign donations.

    Democrats are dropping the ball on running on Gun Control in 2018.

  14. JKB says:

    Well, it was different this time. The kiddies didn’t get the word not to go all in for gun confiscation and some of their ‘adult’ supporters weighed in on that side as well. But the best part was the calls for taking guns while calling for the killing of those who opposed to gun control. Very persuasive.

    On the other hand, those who fell for the fly-by-fright polls and went full on gun control will not be forgotten come November. Or perhaps sooner. Dick’s has been tossed out of the National Shooting Sports Foundation after they hired gun control lobbyists.

    And let’s not miss the gun controllers circular firing squad with the oft called for gun owners liability insurance only to have the NRA carry guard insurance declared illegal in NY as it covered self defense.

  15. James Pearce says:


    The kiddies didn’t get the word not to go all in for gun confiscation and some of their ‘adult’ supporters weighed in on that side as well.

    Your definition of “all in” is very different from mine. They held a couple of rallies, made a couple of speeches.

    Maybe it’s time for the gun rights crowd to “do something” about gun violence instead. It’s your wheelhouse, ain’t it?

  16. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Well, it certainly didn’t take long for the next crazy with a gun to start trying to kill people

  17. Tyrell says:

    @James Pearce: What we don’t are laws that would result in the police going to citizens’ homes and taking guns away from people who have not broken laws. See the new Illinois gun laws.

  18. inhumans99 says:

    Well…support for gun control issues should get a bump today, another school shooting this time in Texas.