Has the Newtown shooting and the media blitz for gun control started to move the needle politically? Gallup’s latest survey shows the highest percentage of dissatisfaction in a dozen years with current gun laws by those who want them toughened, but it’s still only a little more than a third of the country:
In the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, and as Vice President Joe Biden leads a federal task force that will recommend ways to curb gun violence in the U.S., 38% of Americans are dissatisfied with the nation’s gun laws and want them strengthened. This is up from 25% who held this set of views a year ago, and is the highest since 2001. Still, more Americans are either satisfied with current gun laws, 43%, or think they should be loosened, 5%.
These findings are based on two questions in Gallup’s annual Mood of the Nation survey, conducted Jan. 7-10. The first asks respondents if they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the nation’s laws or policies on guns. Those saying they are dissatisfied are asked a follow-up question to determine whether they think the laws should be made more strict, made less strict, or kept as they are. As a result, the 38% who are dissatisfied and want stricter gun laws indicates not only a preference for stricter gun laws but a certain amount of intensity of feeling on the subject.
The uptick in support for strengthening gun laws seen on this question is consistent with a December Gallup pollconducted after the Newtown shootings that found a similar shift over the past year, using a question that does not measure intensity of opinion. That question, Gallup’s long-term-trend measure of gun law preferences, found 58% of all Americans saying gun laws should be stricter, up sharply from 43% in 2011.
Well, that’s true as far as it goes. The same survey, which we noted at the time, also showed people opposed to the two options that the media has pushed. Opposition to a handgun ban hit 74%, an all-time high, just days after the Sandy Hook mass murder took place. A majority of 51% opposed reinstating the so-called “assault weapons” ban, too, although the support for the ban grew to 44%. And while the dissatisfaction with current gun laws jumped 13 points, it’s still less than 40% — and that’s among the general population, too, not registered or likely voters.
So what exactly would get a consensus, at least based on these polls? There will probably be quite a bit of political support for expanded background checks, and perhaps a requirement for background checks on private sales. The latter will get a lot of opposition from gun owners, who don’t see the need to cut a licensed dealer in on sales made to people well-known to the seller, and who will argue (rightly) that this won’t stop the transactions that put guns in the hands of criminals anyway — most of which come through thefts and straw-man purchases that already evade the system. Nevertheless, absent the ability to pass an assault-weapons ban, expect the Obama administration to push these two approaches as a way of being seen to “do something” after Newtown.
Meanwhile, the truth about all of these options is that none of them would have stopped the shooting anyway. Connecticut had an assault-weapons ban in place, and the rest of these measures were irrelevant to the ability of the shooter to arm himself for the massacre. We’re not solving the problem; the political class is merely trying to look busy. And in the meantime, Americans continue to vote with their wallets:
As Washington focuses on what Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will propose next week to curb gun violence, gun and ammunition sales are spiking in the rest of the country as people rush to expand their arsenals in advance of any restrictions that might be imposed.
People were crowded five deep at the tiny counter of a gun shop near Atlanta, where a pastor from Knoxville, Tenn., was among the customers who showed up in person after the store’s Web site halted sales because of low inventory. Emptying gun cases and bare shelves gave a picked-over feel to gun stores in many states. High-capacity magazines, which some state and federal officials want to ban or restrict, were selling briskly across the country: one Iowa dealer said that 30-round magazines were fetching five times what they sold for just weeks ago.
Gun dealers and buyers alike said that the rapid growth in gun sales — which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election and soared after the Dec. 14 shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., prompted him to call for new gun laws — shows little sign of abating.
December set a record for the criminal background checks performed before many gun purchases, a strong indication of a big increase in sales, according to an analysis of federal data by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group. Adjusting the federal data to try to weed out background checks that were unrelated to firearms sales, the group reported that 2.2 million background checks were performed last month, an increase of 58.6 percent over the same period in 2011. Some gun dealers said in interviews that they had never seen such demand.
I doubt these people are part of the 38%.