With gun violence down, is America arming against an imagined threat? (+video)
A Pew study released Tuesday finds that Americans think gun violence has escalated when in reality it's way down from two decades ago. The violence has dropped, meanwhile, even as gun ownership has increased.
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The paradox provides a poignant backdrop for a national gun debate that had primarily Democrats but also key Republicans pushing for more gun controls, including expanded background checks, in the wake of a string of mass murders culminating last December in the shocking massacre of 20 grade-school children in Newtown, Conn., by a disturbed, alienated 20-year-old.
Those who support putting more restrictions on gun ownership say the perception gap about gun violence doesn’t ultimately take away from the need to address the sheer volume of gun violence in the United States.
"None of these studies change the impact of Newtown and other recent mass slayings, showing the need for common sense measures" restricting guns, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D) of Connecticut, told the Associated Press.
Yet coming three weeks after the Senate declined to endorse expanded background checks despite support for that idea from 83 percent of Americans, the new poll at the very least adds interesting new fodder for an ongoing gun policy debate.
Vice President Joe Biden, who led President Obama’s commission on gun violence in the wake of Newtown, has vowed to reintroduce background check legislation. And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns is spending money on ads to put pressure on key Republican and Democratic senators in Arkansas, Alaska, North Dakota, and New Hampshire to change their votes.
But while the Pew findings are dramatic, other polls suggest that Americans’ perceptions about the level of gun violence aren’t necessarily turning into political concern about the trend.
According to a new Gallup poll asking Americans about top legislative priorities, gun control and immigration reform ranked at the bottom of 12 key ideas, with “creating more jobs,” “helping the economy grow,” and “making government work more efficiently” pegged as the top three priorities for the country.