Polls show movement toward stricter gun control – with major caveats

A new USA Today/Gallup poll taken shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre shows 58 percent of respondents saying they now favor stricter gun laws, up from 43 percent in October 2011.

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    People crowd a gun show in Knoxville, Tenn. Friday. “I have never seen anything like this here,” said Jeremy Pearson, who has managed the group that produces shows around the country. “There is a lot of talk about a gun ban, but this show always draws good crowds for us.”
    Michael Patrick/Knoxville News Sentinel/AP
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Public attitudes toward private ownership of firearms have shifted over the years. In the 1990s, Americans were more inclined to favor stricter gun control. More recently, that mind-set has shifted toward greater support for Second Amendment protections of gun ownership.

But in the wake of recent mass shootings – especially the Dec. 14 killing of 20 first-graders and six adult staff at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. by a young man armed with an assault rifle with large-capacity magazines, handguns, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition – another shift has occurred.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll taken shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre shows 58 percent of respondents saying they now favor stricter gun laws, up from 43 percent in October 2011.

Similarly, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll (also taken right after Sandy Hook) finds 55 percent agreeing that that gun control laws should be made more strict, 13 percent said they should be made less strict, and 27 percent said there should be no change.

2012 enters the record books. Were you paying attention? A news quiz.

In 2011, according to the USA Today/Gallup poll, most of those surveyed favored enforcing existing gun laws over passing new ones 60-35 percent. The latest poll has the number wanting new gun laws increasing to 47 percent. Meanwhile 92 percent in this new poll support background checks for buyers at gun shows, and 62 percent favor bans on high-capacity magazines holding as many as 30 rounds of ammunition – steps favored by the White House and congressional supporters of stricter gun control.

At the same time, however, most respondents (51-44 percent) say they’re against any law making it illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess "semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles.” And a very large majority (74-24 percent) opposes greater restrictions on the possession of handguns.

The bottom line in Gallup’s new polling?

“Americans favor new legislation to limit gun sales, presumably to help prevent the kind of gun violence that became all too familiar in 2012,” writes the polling organization’s Lydia Saad in an analysis. “This is seen in increased support for making the laws covering the sale of firearms more strict, and for passing new gun laws.”

There’s a significant caveat, however, Ms. Saad continues: “Views toward banning semi-automatic guns or assault rifles are unchanged, and – possibly reflecting Americans' desire to defend themselves given the rash of high-profile gun violence – a record-high 74 percent oppose preventing anyone but the police or other authorized officials from owning a handgun.”

This negative attitude toward restricting handgun ownership is seen in the sharp and vocal criticism of the Journal News newspaper’s publishing of names and addresses of 44,000 licensed handgun owners in two New York counties this past week with locations pin-pointed using Google maps.

In response, New York state senator Greg Ball has proposed legislation that would bar the public from learning who the gun permit holders are in their communities. In an online survey, the Journal News finds overwhelming support – 89-11 percent – for the proposal to keep gun ownership private.

Meanwhile, the phones at gun shops across the country are ringing off the hook, according to the Associated Press.

“Demand for firearms, ammunition and bulletproof gear has surged since the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six teachers and administrators,” reports the AP. “The shooting sparked calls for tighter gun control measures, especially for military-style assault weapons like the ones used in Newtown and in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting earlier this year. The prospect of a possible weapons ban has sent gun enthusiasts into a panic and sparked a frenzy of buying at stores and gun dealers nationwide.”

In Colorado, reports the Denver Post, the rush to buy guns has become so great that the waiting time for background checks by a state investigative bureau – some 3,000 a day now – has gone from a few minutes to several days.

2012 enters the record books. Were you paying attention? A news quiz.

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