Adorably confused American public wants more gun control, but not too much

Americans are, God bless them, ambivalent on what exactly they’d like us to do to solve our nation’s love affair with guns and violence.  New polls show increased support for gun control, yet still a lot of ambivalence when you read between the lines.

I wonder whether our violent crime rate isn’t part of the problem – people are scared, and worry that the NRA’s line about “if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns” isn’t far from the truth.  People worry about crime in their neighborhoods, and worry that gun control won’t be effective enough. It would be interesting to see a poll delve into the reasons people have for supporting and opposing specific gun control efforts.

Gallup, which isn’t always the most reliable polling service of late, has a new poll which includes some mixed messages on gun control.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., Gallup finds 58% of Americans in favor of strengthening the laws covering the sale of firearms, up from 43% in 2011. Current support for stricter gun laws is the highest Gallup has measured since January 2004, but still not nearly as high as it was in the 1990s.

[T]he new poll also finds that a record-high 47% of Americans favor passing new gun laws, up from 35% in 2011. Since Gallup first asked this question in 2000, majorities have consistently preferred enforcing the current laws more strictly without passing new laws.

Americans’ views on the sale of assault rifles are unchanged. The slight majority, 51%, remain opposed to making it illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles.

Notably, the 44% in favor of assault rifle bans in response to this trend question is nearly identical to the 42% Gallup found favoring assault and semi-automatic bans in a Dec. 18 poll. In that survey, participants responded to a question asking about possible approaches to preventing mass shootings at schools, similar to the shooting that occurred Dec. 14 in Connecticut.

It seems Americans, who always complain about Washington dilly-dallying, want to do something, but not too much.  It’s unclear how many more children need to die before Americans figure out what they do want.

A Huffington Post/YouGov poll has even more encouraging numbers for gun control advocates.

In the new HuffPost/YouGov survey of 1,000 adults conducted Dec. 21-22, 55 percent of Americans said 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. Support for stricter laws in the new poll is even higher than it was in another HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted immediately after the shooting took place, when 50 percent of respondents said that that gun control laws should be made stricter.

HuffPost notes that, interestingly, the NRA still has higher positives than negatives, but I think that can be turned around with the right campaign, especially in light of recent events.  I hear from gun control advocates all the time that the NRA doesn’t represent average gun owners, rather, they represent far-right extremists and the gun industry itself.  If that’s true, we need a long-term campaign to educate the public as to just who the NRA really is.

boy with gun gun control

Boy with gun via Shutterstock

There’s more evidence that the mass-murder of twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut has shaken up the Republican lockstep support for the NRA, and opposition to any new gun control.  Incoming Utah Republican US House member Christ Stewart is open to some limited gun control measures, so long as we do something to address mental illness (someone needs to inform Stewart that his party is the greatest impediment on both issues).

GOP Senator Tom Coburn, a bit of a right-wing nut, is expected to be one of the largest impediments to passing new gun control legislation.  After the VA Tech massacre, Coburn was effective in watering down additional gun legislation at the time.  It’s probably time we wrap extremists like Coburn around the GOP’s next and shove them towards the permanent minority status they deserve.

Jesus lovers are arguing that gun control isn’t the answer.  God is.  Isn’t that always the easy answer.  God cancer?  Pray.
Mass murder?  Pray.  Rampant gun violence in our country and our culture?  Pray.  While I have nothing against prayer, religion has always had a interesting contradiction that has never been sufficiently explained to me.  We’re told to pray when something bad happens, or is about to happen, but we’re also told not to blame God when the bad thing happens anyway.  It seems that we’re not supposed to expect God to fix the thing we’re praying for.  And honestly, no one really expects God to cure cancer, or to cure gun violence in America.

And there’s a larger problem with the “God is missing” argument.  Europe (especially western Europe) is far less religions than we are here in America.  Yet Europe, which watches the same moveis, and plays with the same video games, that we do, and believes in God and goes to church far less than we do, has far fewer of these crazy massacres than we do.   The problem isn’t just God.  And it isn’t just violent video games and movies.

If it’s not the ridiculous excess of guns we have in this country – we’ve got 300 million firearms – and it’s not the movies and games, and it’s not God, then what is it?  Are we just bad people?

That’s the underlying question that Republicans and the NRA need to answer: If guns aren’t the problem, then are they simply saying that Americans are simply less moral, and more evil, than Europeans?



Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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  • comm333bf

    In 2010 there we 31,076 homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings in America, thats more than 85 death everyday ( Im not saying that I don’t see a reason to having a gun, I am just saying I don’t think its worth it. The less guns we have in this country means the less stories we hear about toddlers finding their parents gun and accidentally killing themselves, the less stories we hear like the Sandy Hook school shooting in New Town, Connecticut and the less stories we hear like the shooting that happen at the Batman movie showing in Colorado. Just think of your significant others, think of your parents, think of your kids and think of your friends.

  • Ninong

    It seems to have worked well in Australia but that sort of total ban wouldn’t be acceptable here in the US and might not even pass constitutional muster. Australia spent $500 million to buy back 600,000 semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. There are at least 200 million firearms in the US (I don’t know how many are semiautomatic).

    Should a 100-round ammunition drum be illegal in the US? How about a 30-round clip? What about armor-piercing bullets? What about hollow points? Fully automatic weapons have been illegal for the past 80 years. Maybe we need to get the Supreme Court to take up a case that involves this issue: semiautomatic assault-type weapons and high capacity ammunition clips. Will a self-described “originalist” like Antonin Scalia decide that the founding fathers intended for such weapons to be available to every American citizen or just members of the “militia?” He has studiously avoided this question.

    I think we already know that the founding fathers had absolutely no intention of allowing every citizen of this country over the age of 21 to vote, yet we now allow citizens as young as 18 to vote and we even allow women to vote. Is it time to clarify or maybe even amend the Second Amendment?

  • Michael

    Here’s a little fact. In 1996, Australia had one of the worst massacres in the world. 35 people killed and 21 wounded in Port Arthur. After this, the government applied strict gun controls. Since then, Australia has had only 1 other public masacre, 2 people killed at Monash University in 2002. If that doesn’t show gun control works then I dont know what does.

  • TheOriginalLiz

    Nothing will change. The NRA has money to line congressional pockets; six year olds don’t.

  • Soullite

    As long as rural states and districts are represented in congress, Gun control will never fly. You might be able to pass something, but every time you do, you’ll make winning the house a statistical impossibility.

    And you know that. But you just keep pushing because you can’t help youselves. I wish that you loved helping poor people half as much as you loved hating gun owners.

    Oh well, at least you’ve all backed down from the ‘Let’s restart the rape, torture and political prisoner gulag known as the pre-80’s asylum system!’. That was just about the most historically clueless idea this site and the broader democratic party ever had. This is just politically clueless. That was flat-out evil.

  • Do nothing, too little, too late——until the next slaughter. Then do nothing, too little, too late—–So, American

  • TuxedoCartman

    It’s called cherry-picking your data. Would you like to play the same game with the numbers from Japan? Or how about we average out the data from every first-world country with strict gun control, and compare it to America’s? That’s the smart thing to do, and even in that case it still shows the outright idiocy of having a society as armed as ours is.

  • Being that several states refuse to enforce federal gun laws, we’re pretty much already arming outlaws.

    With that said, nothing significant will happen with regards to gun control. Americans love to wring their hands and express their sympathy for a fresh tragedy, but they don’t really give a crap about regulating weapons. And, when the next tragedy comes around within the next couple of weeks, people will barely remember Newtown anyway.

  • cole3244

    americans want gun control for the other guy but not for themselves, sound familiar.

  • Naja pallida

    Yes, I believed there is no gang-related violence in Europe. I also believe that’s where leprechauns and unicorns are from.

  • Naja pallida

    The problem there being they saw problems of the past, and have been working very hard to find solutions. Even if those solutions mean making drastic compromises. It hasn’t always worked out, especially when it comes to economics, but they have made huge strides in law enforcement. When the Soviet Union collapsed, much of eastern Europe could have easily descended into abject chaos, but the EU was a stabilizing factor for the whole region.

    There was a joke going around when the EU was awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize: Oh yeah, the EU gives itself the Nobel for being only 17 years since its last ethnic cleansing.

  • perljammer

    The European statistics don’t include organized crime or gang killings either. Or did you think there wasn’t any of that in Europe?

  • Naja pallida

    Those still only count the ones that get significant national media attention. They don’t count the four gang members shot in south central LA, etc.

  • perljammer

    Actually, you can count all the mass shootings in the US. Try Wikipedia.

  • Naja pallida

    If you look at the statistics for crimes like mugging, they disproportionately happen to tourists – because they’re often easy marks by being likely to be carrying a good amount of money, and are so distracted by being in a new place that they’re easy to pick off. Also, they are least likely to report it, because they’re going to be moving on in a few days and don’t want to waste their vacation filing police reports. Rule #1 of traveling abroad, try to look like you fit in.

    But really, the primary statistic we’re talking about when it comes to firearms is the homicide rate… and the US has a homicide rate on par with nations that are either too weak to have effective law enforcement, or too corrupt to have effective law enforcement.

  • Naja pallida

    Actually, those statistics are slightly misleading, but only in the way presented, because the UN Office of Drug and Crime breaks up the statistics for the UK, so those numbers are only for England and Wales. The numbers for the UK itself is actually more actually like: Assault: 731; Robbery: 83; Burglary: 694; Theft: 2,015. With homicide by firearm: US 3.2/UK 0.2. Those numbers are also a couple years old. The most recent data has shown significant drops in almost all types of crime in the UK, including homicide, over the last couple of years, while the US has remained pretty much the same.

  • Naja pallida

    18 over a decade, spread across 12 different countries, that all add up to a about the same population level as the US. I doubt we could even count all the mass shootings in the US in that time, because they’re so common, and that some unless particularly horrifying, barely make a blip on the national news anymore.

  • Jackmeirod

    John — I actually thought I was being original and quite intrepid as I’ve never seen the NRA cite the UN statistics I found or make the point I tried to make. In any event, calling me “Mr NRA Talking Point” isn’t really an arrgument is it? Exactly how did I twist the data? I actually acknowledged that the homicide rate generally and the firearm homicide rate in the UK is indeed significantly higher than the US. I cited UN data verbatim that I believe shows that the violent crime rate (in 4 important categories) is signifcantly higher in the UK than US (although the same does not apply throughout Europe). My point is that homicide rates and aberrational mass shootings don’t paint the entire picture when we are talking about public safety and levels of violence and that gun control does not necessarily lead to a safer society.
    I’ve visited but haven’t lived in Europe. If anectodal experience is meaningful to you (as it seems to be) I can tell you that I was mugged in Amsterdam and didn’t feel particularly safe in London, but have never been the vicitim of a crime during my 45 years living in NYC, Atlanta (with its liberal gun laws) and suburban NJ. Your blog entry and response to my post are typical of gun ban advocates who claim to want a “dialogue” or “debate” on gun control but really have no interest in constructive dialogue and are unwilling to move beyond your “guns are bad” narrative.

  • RepubAnon

    Don’t criticize American Exceptionalism! If we’re really good at something, like firearms violence, it must be a good thing!! USA-USA-USA!!!!!

    More seriously, changing the emphasis to gun safety and responsible gun ownership (rather than banning guns) is something everyone other than the gun sellers and the wingnuts could get behind. Setting up a firearms licensing system similar to the drivers license/automobile license system as a start would be a familiar and reasonable first step. We’d need to make sure that it was confidential, with the same privacy rights as drivers license and automobile license information. (No “gun owners in your neighborhood” lists modeled on the sex offenders lists – this just confirms the gun nuts worst fears of black helicopters with giant electromagnets grabbing all their guns. You want to make up such a list – use Facebook data.)

    Ammunition sales regulation would be part of the firearms licensing system – with one catch: site storage licensing. Anyone seeking to purchase more than a certain amount of ammunition per month, would first need to show that the area where they’ll be storing the ammunition meets appropriate safety standards. (Same regulations as for other hazardous materials, such as gasoline. We don’t want people storing 55 gallon drums of gasoline in their apartments – it’s a fire risk, as is ammunition storage.)

    Want to reload your own ammunition? You’d need to either have a site safety license to do so at home, or go to a reloading center (the gun stores could operate these.) Want to buy your own reloading supplies? You’d need to show your site safety license.

    Would you like to carry a concealed weapon, or a military-grade weapon? We require police officers armed with pistols and shotguns to have special training and meet certain skills requirements. SWAT team personnel are armed with military-grade weapons, and must meet even higher training and skills requirements. Why should the police be held to higher standards than the rest of us?

    Selling your gun? If you sell your truck to your hunting buddy, you have to transfer title via the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you car’s stolen – you must report that as well. Until you do, you’re liable for the parking tickets and any accidents the driver might get into. Why not carry this forward to firearms? It sure would make it easy to prosecute straw buyers who sell guns to the drug cartels.

    Oh, and everyone would need to buy appropriate insurance. Violations of the rules would be treated like violating motor vehicle safety rules. If your carelessness injures or kills someone, it doesn’t matter whether you were careless with your firearm or your car.

    Notice how everything’s framed in terms of safe storage, handling and operation? If responsible ownership of firearms isn’t the problem, lets ask government to make sure that firearms owners are acting responsibly.

    The NRA’s only answer at that point is fear of taxes and big government regulation. This puts us where we need to be on all today’s issues: unregulated banks take your money – unregulated guns take your lives. If you don’t like that, vote for a Democrat.

  • blogmobb

    I find it odd that so many of the elite Euro-philes (i.e. the rich white people with the money to vacation in Paris), keep pointing to Europe as the shining example of peacefulness. I agree, aside from the little nagging issues of World War I, World War II, Northern Ireland, and the genocidal massacres in Serbia, Bosnia, etc.

  • perljammer

    Sometimes what we “know”, turns out to be what we wish were true.

    Zug, Switzerland, Sept. 27, 2001: A man whose lawsuits had been denied murdered 14 members of a cantonal parliament.

    Tours, France, Oct. 29, 2001: Four people were killed and ten wounded when a French railway worker started shooting at a busy intersection.

    Nanterre, France, March 27, 2002: A man killed eight city-council members after a council meeting.

    Erfurt, Germany, April 26, 2002: A former student killed 18 at a secondary school.

    Freising, Germany, Feb. 19, 2002: Three people killed and one wounded.

    Turin, Italy, Oct. 15, 2002: Seven people killed on a hillside overlooking the city.

    Madrid, Spain, Oct. 1, 2006: A man killed two employees and wounded another at a company that had fired him.

    Emsdetten, Germany, Nov. 20, 2006: A former student murdered eleven people at a high school.

    Tuusula, Finland, Nov. 7, 2007: Seven students and the principal killed at a high school.

    Naples, Italy, Sept. 18, 2008: Seven dead and two seriously wounded in a public meeting hall.

    Kauhajoki, Finland, Sept. 23, 2008: Ten people shot to death at a college.

    Winnenden, Germany, March 11, 2009: A 17-year-old former student killed 15 people, including nine students and three teachers.

    Lyon, France, March 19, 2009: Ten people injured when a man opened fire on a nursery school.

    Athens, Greece, April 10, 2009: Three people killed and two injured by a student at a vocational college.

    Rotterdam, Netherlands, April 11, 2009: Three people killed and one injured at a crowded café.

    Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2009: One dead and 15 wounded in an attack on a Sikh temple.

    Espoo, Finland, Dec. 31, 2009: Four people shot to death at a mall.

    Cumbria, England, June 2, 2010: Twelve killed by a British taxi driver.

  • Litterbox

    NIce. So you accuse the guy of twisting numbers but yet theres no evidence of that. You love statistics when it supports YOUR view. Tell me you wouldnt be here patting him on the back if he was showing you numbers you approve of.

  • Litterbox

    Wow, so the suggested provision of increasing care for the mentally ill is met with a stupid personal attack? I hope you realize that the people committing these shootings are obviously mentally impaired. If you cant see that then you really have no right to even discuss this issue under the pretense that you want a discussion or well thought out debate. And another thing, the NRA is absolutely right when they say that if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will then have them. Its fucking common sense. You and I follow the laws…criminals don’t. Thats why they are criminals. I shouldn’t have to explain this. If you take away my ability to own a gun for self defense, Ill go along with the law because Im not a criminal. The criminal will just keep doing what he wants to do knowing all the “sheep” aren’t armed.

  • Well, Mr. NRA Talking Point, I’ve lived in Europe, a few times, and I suspect you haven’t. These killings don’t occur there nearly as frequently as they occur here. It’s all well and good to twist data in order to fool the American people into believing the NRA’s lies. It’s another when you’re dealing with folks who have actually lived in Europe and know just how dangerous daily life is America as compared to Europe. Good try though.

  • Yes, but doesn’t stop them from having opinions on politics all the time. And you’d think folks would have pretty strong views on whether to ban certain weapons.

  • Drew2u

    In my job, I learned quickly when I’m asked to do something, my boss doesn’t care HOW it gets done, just that it’ done.
    This comes from asking, “Would you like me to do it this way, or this way? I could do either.” And the answer I kept getting, before I learned, was: “Just do it,” or “Just get it done.”

    I think what we’re seeing here with the public on pretty much all issues. The public wants something done, but for the most part they don’t care how congress gets something resolved. This ambivalence comes from, I believe, ignorance of the issues because people are 1). too lazy to follow the issues and 2). too busy to follow the issues. The reason why we have been sending elected officials to congress haven’t been to give our voices to the government (government of the people, by the people), but instead to send someone to make decisions about issues for us and then never following up on the results except what can be gained from a 60-second report clip.

  • Jackmeirod

    First, get your facts straight. Here are statistics (from the UN office of drug and crime) regarding four categories of crime in the US and UK (rate per 100,000 population):
    Assault: UK: 664.4/ USA: 250.9; Robbery (eg home invasion, armed robbery) UK: 137.9/USA: 115.2
    Burglary (ie break-ins when no one is home): UK: 946.1/USA: 695.9; Theft:UK: 2,574.5/USA: 1,993

    While the US does have a homicide rate that is 4x higher than the UK and more gun homicides per capita, the overall violent crime rate is significantly higher in the UK. Most gun homicides in the US are drug and/or gang related and disproportionately affect the inner city. Thus overall, despite the horrific massacre in Newtown (and these types of killings do indeed occur in the UK and the rest of Europe), overall Americans are much safer than in the UK with all of its gun control (remember people scrambling to buy baseball bats to defend themselves during the UK riots last year).

    Second, I love your comment “It’s unclear how many more children need to die before Americans figure out what they do want.” I think you meant to say before Americans do what YOU want (which is to ban guns, apparently). Most Americans do know what they want. They want to protect their Second Amendment right to own guns for self-defense (no, the Second Amendment ain’t about hunting or “sportsmen”) and don’t want gun bans, particularly when such bans will do zilch to improve public safety. This knew gallup poll is completely consistent with the views of gun owners I know: Fix bacgkround checks and other methods to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people and criminals, but don’t punish law abiding people and infringe on their rights because of the acts of madmen.

    I’m afraid it’s you that is confused.

  • It’s a bit odd to complain that Americans don’t know what to do. How would people self organize around a policy proposal? The real issue is that one party wants to do nothing, and the other is confused (do we need gun control, mental health care, or the National Guard in schools?) The term gun control isn’t every helpful either – it’s so broad it can cover outright gun bans, strict regulations, or simple gun safety measures. Events don’t lead to political change – they only create a window when change is more likely. So far it’s being squandered.

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