The public’s attitudes toward gun control have shown only modest change in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Currently, 49% say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 42% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.
This marks the first time since Barack Obama took office that more Americans prioritize gun control than the right to own guns. Opinion was evenly divided in July, following a shooting at a Colorado movie theater. At that time, 47% said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 46% said it was more important to protect gun rights.
However, support for gun control remains lower than before Obama took office. In April 2008, 58% said it was more important to control gun ownership; just 37% prioritized protecting gun rights.
As in the past, there are wide partisan and demographic differences in opinions about gun control. Majorities of men, whites and Republicans say it is more important to protect gun rights. By contrast, most women, blacks, Democrats and those in the Northeast prioritize controlling gun ownership. In other regions, opinion is divided.
There are deeply held opinions on both sides when it comes to the choice between controlling gun ownership and protecting gun rights: 42% strongly believe it is more important to control gun ownership, while 37% strongly feel it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 17-19 among 1,219 adults, finds a higher percentage saying that gun ownership in this country does more to protect people from crime (48%) than to put their safety at risk (37%).Gallup finds that the public is more confident about measures other than gun control:
However, about two-thirds (65%) think that allowing citizens to own assault weapons makes the country more dangerous. Just 21% say that permitting these types of weapons makes the country safer.
A question included in Gallup Daily tracking on Dec. 18 listed six possible preventative actions. Respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of each in terms of "preventing mass shootings at schools, like the one that occurred in Connecticut last week."
Much of the discussion since Friday's devastating mass shooting has focused on the potential efficacy of new laws on gun sales and ownership. Forty-two percent of Americans say that banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons would be "very effective" in preventing mass shootings. Another 21% say such actions would be "somewhat effective," and 36% say they would be "not effective."
Americans rated the effectiveness of three potential actions higher than the semi-automatic weapon ban. But it is clear that Americans are not overwhelmingly convinced that any of the actions would be highly effective in preventing future school shootings.
- Slightly more than half (53%) of Americans say that increased police presence would be very effective. This action is at the top of the effectiveness list.
- The only other action that a majority of Americans view as very effective is government spending on mental health screening and treatment -- 50% say this would be very effective.
- Forty-seven percent say decreasing media and video game gun violence would be very effective.