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On Gun Control, the Needle Isn’t Moving Yet



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A CNN/ORC poll released yesterday seems to indicate that a “bare majority” of Americans now favor “major gun restrictions” and that a significant “62 percent” favor banning “semi-automatic assault guns” — whatever they are. The findings were quickly picked up by the usual suspects and touted as evidence of a sea change in Americans’ thinking.

But, before Second Amendment-types rush out to panic-buy weapons, they might look at Gallup’s numbers — and its conclusion — which tell a different story:

Americans are most likely to say that an increased police presence at schools, increased government spending on mental health screening and treatment, and decreased depiction of gun violence in entertainment venues would be effective in preventing mass shootings at schools. Americans rate the potential effectiveness of a ban on assault and semi-automatic guns as fourth on a list of six actions Gallup asked about.

Even allowing for the fact that, because “assault” means nothing at all and “semi-automatic guns” describes pretty much every firearm in the United States the questions are clouded and confused, Gallup’s results are not great news for the gun-control lobby. “It is clear,” Gallup concluded, “that Americans are not overwhelmingly convinced that any of the actions would be highly effective in preventing future school shootings.”

Still, 42 percent of those polled considered “banning the sale of assault and semi-automatic guns” to be “very effective,” and 21 percent thought it “somewhat effective.” If we are generous, we could add these two numbers together and say that it tallies with the CNN/ORC results, indicating 63 percent support for banning guns. 

This would be a mistake. “Many Americans,” Gallup concluded:

apparently continue to harbor doubts that laws, such as a ban on semi-automatic weapons, would be highly effective in preventing future mass shootings at schools.

Gallup polling conducted after previous high-profile incidents of gun-related mass shootings has shown similar attitudes in relationship to gun control. Open-ended questions asked after the tragic incidents at Virginia Tech and in Tucson, Ariz., found that respondents were more likely to suggest means of preventing these shootings that did not involve gun control than to mention preventative steps that did involve gun control.

More recently, a CBS News poll conducted after Friday’s shootings found that only 26% of Americans said that stricter gun laws would have done a lot to prevent the Newtown shootings. Half said stricter laws would have had no effect.

If this really is the game-changing event for which the anti-gun lobby has been waiting, then Americans have a funny way of showing it. In the case of a shift, one would expect to see different numbers than those collected after previous shootings — numbers that would make it all but impossible for the president quietly to drop the issue or half-heartedly to try to reinstate the old Assault Weapons Ban. Indeed, as the Huffington Post reported, there has been a change in the public’s attitude towards mass shootings. It just hasn’t been in the gun-control area:

A Washington Post/ABC News poll, released Monday, found that just over half of Americans saw the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary as a sign of broader problems rather than an isolated incident. That response reverses a trend that remained solid through the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the 2011 Tucson shooting, and the Aurora movie theater shooting earlier this year, each of which were viewed by a majority as isolated incidents.

Opinions on gun regulation didn’t show similar movement, but several changes could signal a shift in the conversation on gun control.

The survey found a small bump in support for stricter gun control, with net support for new regulations up 7 points from August, but roughly in line with earlier polling. Support for banning semi-automatic handguns also increased from January, reaching a slim majority.

An online HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted immediately after the shooting in Newtown found a bump in support similar to the one after 1999′s Columbine shooting, although respondents were split over whether the time was right to discuss gun control.

Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be too optimistic if I were on the side of the regulators.



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