Is gun control legislation even possible in America?

August 14, 2019, 5:00 PM GMT+0

Calls for reform of gun laws after mass shootings may be falling on increasingly attentive ears: Republicans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll are more willing to support some gun control measures now than they were after the 2018 school shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, shootings which killed 17 students and staff members.

Following the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio earlier this month, it seemed like there was movement toward action. President Donald Trump indicated support for at least some new gun laws, including additional background checks on people purchasing firearms, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Senate would discuss gun legislation when it returns in September after its summer recess.

But for many, September might not be soon enough. Not only do 49% of Republicans support Congress taking action to prevent gun violence, but a plurality (42%) of them (along with 57% of the overall public) favor calling the Senate back into session to do just that.

Americans approve of the president traveling to El Paso and Dayton, as he did last week. But more see him as dividing, rather than uniting the country (Republicans disagree). His approval rating when it comes to handling the issue of gun control is not much different than it was a week ago. This week, nearly half (49%) disapprove, while just 36 percent approve.

The National Rifle Association seems vulnerable to loss of support in the wake of the two mass shootings, though some of the slippage may be self-inflicted. For a long time, the public has been closely divided in its assessment of the NRA, with about as many seeing it favorably as view it unfavorably. In this week’s poll, opinion has become clearly negative. However, the loss in support has come primarily from Democrats and Independents. More than seven in 10 Republicans remain positive.

Republicans, particularly Republican women, are slightly less likely to say their opinion of the NRA this week is “strongly favorable.”

Several specific gun control measures have enormous bipartisan public support. Some have always had this support, but support has grown recently on others.

  • More than three in four adults, both Democrats and Republicans, support preventing anyone with a history of mental illness from owning a gun. This overwhelming support is not new.
  • In addition, three in four Republicans, as well as three in four overall, continue to favor criminal and mental background checks for all gun sales, including private sales and those made at gun shows.
  • Two-thirds overall (and for the first time, a majority of Republicans) now favor banning magazine clips for semi-automatic weapons that hold more than 10 rounds.
  • Majorities in all political groups support gun registration with a national gun registry. Republicans favor this 53 percent to 41 percent. After Parkland, Republicans were as likely to oppose a national registry as support it.

Republicans have increased their support for banning semi-automatic weapons, instituting a 5-day waiting period to buy a firearm, limiting the number of handguns a person can own, and preventing concealed carrying of a gun. However, the majority of Republicans continue to oppose each of these measures, except for the five-day waiting period. Two-thirds of Republicans favor the waiting period. Majorities overall support all these policies.

There are proposals that Republicans support and Democrats oppose: stationing armed guards at all schools (first proposed by NRA leader Wayne La Pierre after the 2012 killings at Newtown Elementary School), and restricting violent video games, which Trump proposed last week. And while Republicans are nearly as likely as Democrats to support funding studies of mental health and gun violence, they are narrowly divided on whether the Centers for Disease Control should conduct research on gun violence. The public overall favors this by nearly two to one.

See the full toplines and tables results from this week's Economist/YouGov poll.

Related: After Ohio and Texas mass shootings, Democrats turn focus to gun control

Image: Getty