Stricter US gun laws: Who wants them, who doesn't?

A new AP-Gfk poll shows that while a majority of the country supports stricter gun laws, supporters and opponents are divided along sharp racial, political, and geographic lines.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis. points to his copy of the Constitution as he emphasizes to reporters that the GOP's proposed gun control measures protect Second Amendment rights, Wednesday, July 6, 2016, during a news conference at the Republican National Committee Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Americans are coming to favor stricter gun control laws in general, according to a poll conducted by the Associated Press in conjunction with research group Gfk. But support or opposition to such laws still greatly depends on age, gender, and political affiliation.

After a spate of recent terrorist attacks and mass shootings, six out of 10 Americans say that they are concerned that they may become victims of gun violence. It is this worry, perhaps, that lead 73 percent of those surveyed in the AP-Gfk poll to support stricter gun control measures.

"If you live in the United States in these days right now, you have to be concerned," Milonne Ambroise, a 63-year-old administrative assistant from Decatur, Georgia, told the Associated Press. "You could be on the street somewhere. You could be at a shopping mall thinking there will be a mass shooting and you will be in the middle of it. You can't not think about it."

Yet despite these concerns, and support for gun safety measures such as mandatory background checks and banning those on terrorist watch lists (both measures are supported by 73 percent of those polled), overall, 62 percent of Americans believe that owning a gun increases their safety, rather than detracts from it.

This Gallup poll number is up from just 35 percent in 2000, despite (or perhaps due to) a rash of mass shootings during the intervening years, including a movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colo., and the massacre of school children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Women, like Ms. Ambroise, are more likely to support stricter gun laws than men, according to the latest AP-Gfk poll. Blacks, Hispanics, and urban dwellers are also much more likely to support stricter laws than white Americans and rural residents.

Regarding personal gun ownership, however, a majority of Americans polled were in favor of holding adult gun owners liable for the consequences if children get ahold of the guns. More than half of those polled also supported banning large magazine weapons and semi-automatic weapons.

Nevertheless, the AP-Gfk poll shows that most Americans do not support getting rid of guns all together. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed did not support a ban on handguns, and a majority also oppose a mandatory gun buyback program similar to one that took place in Australia after a mass shooting there in 1996.

Respondents political leanings greatly shaped their responses to the poll, with nine out of 10 Democrats supporting stricter gun control measures, and a small majority of Democrats saying that owning a weapon puts a person’s safety more at risk than not owning that weapon.

Just four out of 10 Republicans support stricter gun control measures. Republican respondents were also more likely to say that owning a gun afforded them greater protection than not owning a gun.

With so many conflicting preferences and viewpoints, gun control remains a complex issue in the United States, where 41 states have passed more liberal public gun carry laws since 2012, yet support for stricter gun control measures has been on the rise.

Overall, the AP-Gfk poll showed that about two thirds of the country is in favor of stricter gun laws, preferring a national standard to a variety of state laws.

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