Gun control has understandably crept to the forefront of people’s minds in recent days, following the shooting of 19 people outside an Arizona grocery store last week. Certainly lawmakers are a little shaken that one of their own, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords appears to have been the primary target. As a result, there are a number of proposals floating around in Congress that probably wouldn’t be there otherwise: one would limit the size of magazine clips available to the general public, essentially reducing the number of times a civilian could shoot without reloading; another would ban guns within 1,000 ft of some public officials. Lawmakers are apparently ready for some restrictions on guns. But is the general public?
Over the weekend, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that Americans are warming to the idea of gun control. The poll found that 52 percent of those polled favor stricter gun control laws, up from 51 percent in 2009. Moreover, 39 percent said they strongly favor stronger laws whereas 33 percent strongly oppose them. Of those polled, 44 percent said they owned a gun versus 55 percent who said they did not (up from 41 percent who said they owned one in 2009).
What’s perhaps more interesting is that historically, support for gun control has been much higher–in 2007, 61 percent of those polled said they supported tighter gun control. In 1999, that number was 67 percent. The first major drop seems to have happened in 2001 (in January, it’s worth noting, before the terrorist attacks of September 11) and then again in 2008. Why?
One theory of dwindling support for gun control is the general decline in the murder rate over the past two decades, which has caused gun danger to drop from people’s radar. Others attribute the change in attitude to a dwindling urban population (urbanites tend to support gun laws more than those from rural areas). Yet another posits that back in the mid 1900s, not only were there simply fewer guns out on the streets, but people trusted law enforcement to protect them and saw little need to carry guns. And then it could be that lawmakers have simply not been consistently championing the need to restrict guns.
Slight upticks in support have generally been attributed to violent events of that particular year. In 2007, for instance, when the public seemed more favorable than usual to restricting guns, a Virginia Tech student had gone on a shooting rampage on that campus. As the graph shows, that support didn’t last very long–so it’s likely the minor uptick will also fade, unless this latest incident sparks more enduring soul searching than has followed past mass shootings.
Any other theories on the overall decline in support for gun control and what, if anything, might turn it around?