Mass shooting after mass shooting, opinions about gun control don't change

February 21, 2018, 9:00 PM GMT+0

53% of Americans want stricter laws covering the sale of handguns

After nearly every mass shooting, the Economist/YouGov Poll has asked Americans about changes in gun laws. The answers are almost always the same. While support for stricter gun law rose through mid-2015, since then little has changed. Just over half the public now supports stricter gun laws – 53% in the current poll conducted after the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

While few would loosen existing gun laws, just 38% of Republicans would strengthen them.

President Trump asked the Justice Department to design regulations to limit “bump stocks,” devices that can turn a semi-automatic weapon into the equivalent of machine gun. Bump stocks were said to have been used in last year’s Las Vegas concert massacre.

For many, mass shootings are more about the mental health of gunmen than they are about gun violence, especially for Republicans.

Partisans had similar reactions when asked the same question after the shootings in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church last November.

There are a number of proposals to limit gun violence that get bipartisan support, a few of which have been mentioned by President Trump as legislation he would support. Some involve ways of dealing with mental health problems and gun purchases, including better background checks: eight in ten (Republicans as well as Democrats) support preventing those who are mentally ill from acquiring guns, two in three (Republicans as well as Democrats) would support a five-day delay in handgun purchases, three in four (Republicans as well as Democrats) favor criminal and mental background checks on all gun purchases, even those bought privately or at gun shows.

There is also support for things like creating a national gun registry. 63% overall – including 50% of Republicans -- favor this today. A majority of Republicans would also ban magazine clips that shoot more than ten rounds. But Republicans divide evenly on whether or not to ban all semi-automatic weapons.

Republicans reject, as they have for years, allowing the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence. But that opposition changes to support when the mandate changes to researching mental health and gun violence. Republicans as well as Democrats support this.

These opinions have been constants in Economist/YouGov polling on gun violence. But there are changes this week in two proposals involving protecting schools.

Republicans are much more likely in this poll than they had been in November to support stationing armed guards in all schools. While Democratic support rose, too, it was a far smaller increase. Republicans also now are as likely as Democrats to favor spending $50 million to hire officers and counselors, and provide emergency planning to schools. A 13-point party gap on this question has dropped to zero.

But while there is support for many gun control measures, in some cases bipartisan support, many people think that new laws might not be necessary – 44% think existing laws just need to be better enforced, and only 31% say new laws are necessary. On this item, it is Democrats who have changed. In November, Democrats were divided on whether or not new laws were necessary. Now, by two to one, they say they are. Just 12% of Republicans agree.

Read more topline and table results here

Image: Getty