Last Friday, a psychopath killed 20 small school children and 7 women in cold blood at an elementary school in a quaint New England town. It was an unspeakable tragedy that rocked the nation to its core, compelling many Americans to reexamine their own convictions about guns and gun control.
As Americans begin to finish this process of self-reflection one question emerges: has the American public changed its mind on gun-related issues?
Two new gun polls, one conducted by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and one by Gallup.com provide insight into helping us answer that question.
The Pew poll, which surveyed 1,219 adults from Dec. 17-19, found only a “modest change” in opinion on gun control with 49 percent of respondents agreeing that it’s more important to control gun ownership than it is to protect the gun rights and 42 percent saying the opposite, gun rights over gun control.
The last time Pew surveyed the same question, following the July mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, CO, “47 percent of participants said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 46 percent said it was more important to protect gun rights.”
Given that the poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points, it’s clear that there has not been a significant change in public opinion on gun control vs. gun rights following the Newtown tragedy.
With respect to the overall effect guns have on society, respondents in the Pew poll said that gun ownership in the U.S. does more to protect people from crime (48 percent) than to put their safety at risk (37 percent).
Additionally, 67 percent of those surveyed said they oppose a ban on handguns, but 53 percent favored a ban on high-capacity magazines and 56 percent favored a ban on ‘armor-piercing bullets.’ Only 44 percent supported a ban on semiautomatic firearms, while 49 percent opposed it (caveat, with these polls, it’s always unclear as to what percentage of participants actually know the difference between semi-auto and fully-auto).
In looking at the Gallup poll, which surveyed 1,009 adults on Dec. 18 on the efficacy of six measures designed to prevent mass shootings, it’s clear that gun control, in particular a ban on ‘assault’ weapons, was not the most favored solution.
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.
Americans were least likely to say that arming at least one school official at every school and the news media refusing to publicize the name of the shooter would be very effective strategies.
At the end of the day it seems as though Americans are resigned to the fact that evil exits in the world and that, regardless of what we do, bad things will continue to happen to good people. Sure, we need to do more to defend the defenseless and hopefully lawmakers pass sensible mental health laws to see that this is accomplished, but even so, there are limitations to what can be accomplished legislatively.
Given this reality, it seems as though we have two choices (the same two choices that existed prior to the Newtown tragedy), learn to take responsibility for our own safety or play the odds and hope that something bad doesn’t happen.
Either way, the choice is ours – at least for now.