Most Americans want more gun control but doubt it would stop mass shootings

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
April 26, 2022, 4:51 PM GMT+0

A recent analysis finds that the number of mass shootings in the U.S. – defined as a shooting where four or more people are injured or killed – has increased significantly in the past two years. A shooting on April 12, which injured dozens in a Brooklyn subway, has prompted new calls for stricter laws governing handguns. Others see the shooting as but one instance of a broader rise in crime occurring nationally, particularly in urban centers.

The latest Economist/YouGov poll finds that most Americans have heard about the recent Brooklyn subway shooting, and a large share attribute the shooting to mental illness. While many people say that the number of mass shootings has increased over the past year, most say stricter gun laws wouldn’t have prevented these events. However, Americans are far more likely to say that handgun laws should be made stricter, rather than less strict, and almost every one of the gun-control measures polled is supported by a majority of Americans.

Half of Americans (50%) say that the number of mass shootings in the U.S. has increased over the past year, while 12% say it has decreased and 25% say it has stayed the same.

Most Americans (87%) say they’ve heard about the mass shooting that took place on a Brooklyn subway on April 12.

When asked what the reason for the shooting was (with the ability to select all that apply from a list), Americans most often say that it was an act of mental illness (44%), followed by an act of violence (42%), an act of hate (38%), and an act of terrorism (29%).

Would stricter gun laws have prevented any recent mass shootings? More people say stricter laws would not have prevented any shootings (46%) than say they would have (29%). Democrats (53%) are more likely to say any shootings would’ve been prevented than Republicans are (10%).

While they aren’t confident stricter laws would prevent mass shootings, more Americans would prioritize an effective solution to gun violence over gun rights, than would put gun rights first. Nearly one-third (31%) say that it’s more important to protect people from gun violence than say it’s more important for people to have a right to own guns (22%). Even more (40%) say both are equally important. Men are equally likely to prioritize protection from gun violence (29%) and gun rights (28%), while women are twice as likely to prioritize protection (34%) over gun rights (17%).

The Brooklyn subway shooting involved a handgun. Our poll in the wake of this shooting found that Americans are three times more likely to say gun laws covering the sale of handguns should be made more strict (45%) than less strict (14%). About one in three (31%) say there should be no change.

Beyond handguns, most of the other gun-control measures polled are popular with a majority of Americans, and all receive more support than opposition:

  • 71% of Americans favor requiring criminal and mental background checks for all people buying guns, including at gun shows and private sales
  • 60% favor requiring gun owners to register their guns with a national gun registry
  • 56% favor banning the sale of magazine clips for semi-automatic weapons that hold more than 10 rounds
  • 52% favor banning semi-automatic weapons
  • 48% favor having the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct research on gun violence
  • 45% favor preventing people from carrying a concealed gun in public

Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to support gun-control measures. While all measures were supported by at least 70% of Democrats, only one was supported by a majority of Republicans (67% support requiring background checks at gun shows and for private sales).

— Linley Sanders and Carl Bialik contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on April 16 - 19, 2022, among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll

Image: Shelley Calton