Support for gun control in the wake of last week’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut remains far below the peak seen at the turn of the century, according to a survey released today.
The poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, taken after the killing of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, reflects only a modest change in attitudes, the Washington-based organization said. The survey found 49 percent of people believe it’s more important to control gun ownership than to protect Americans’ right to own guns, while 42 percent placed a higher priority on the right to possess firearms.
In 2000, the height of recent gun-control support as measured by the Pew survey, two-thirds of Americans supported new restrictions. The latest numbers reflect the difficult climate facing President Barack Obama and legislative allies who have vowed to toughen gun laws after the Newtown shooting.
“There is only a modest tilt toward gun control following Newtown, not a sea change,” Michael Dimock, associate research director for the Pew project, said in an e-mail. “Levels of support for gun control still fall far short of where they were as recently as 2008.”
Support for gun control dropped dramatically in the year after Obama was elected, falling to 49 percent in April 2009 from 58 percent one year earlier, Pew found.
About 47 percent of people surveyed said the Newtown massacre and other mass killings were “isolated acts of troubled individuals,” while 44 percent said they indicated broader problems in American society. More than 300 million firearms are owned by Americans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Dimock said the moderate change in opinions likely is due to the finding that most Americans say the protection afforded by gun ownership outweighs the risk to other people. He said opinions also are slow to change because 8 in 10 Americans said they feel strongly about the issue.
Two-thirds of Americans said assault-type weapons make the country more dangerous, while only 21 percent said they make people safer. Even so, 49 percent oppose a ban on the weapons, while 44 percent said they’d support such a measure, according to the poll of 1,219 adults taken Dec. 17-19. Its margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Two-thirds of people polled opposed banning civilian possession of handguns. Fifty-six percent of people surveyed said they’d support a ban on “cop-killer” bullets capable of penetrating bullet-proof vests, and 53 percent said high- capacity ammunition clips should be outlawed.
Pew researchers found majorities of women, blacks, Democrats and people who live in the Northeast put a higher priority on gun control. Men, whites and Republicans were more likely to support gun rights.
Neither political party has an advantage on gun control, with 27 percent of respondents saying Republicans better reflect their views on the issue and 28 percent saying Democrats.
About 37 percent said the National Rifle Association, the largest gun-rights organization in the U.S., has too much influence over gun-control laws; 18 percent said it has too little influence, and 27 percent said the Fairfax, Virginia- based lobby has an appropriate amount of input.
Opposition to the NRA was somewhat higher 12 years ago, when 42 percent of respondents said the group had too much power, while those holding other views were about the same.
In a statement released earlier this week, the NRA said it was “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” by the Newtown killings. The association has declined comment until a news conference scheduled for tomorrow.