Polls: Support for Strict Gun Laws Is Low

By Ryan, Zoe | National Catholic Reporter, August 17, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Polls: Support for Strict Gun Laws Is Low

Ryan, Zoe, National Catholic Reporter

Nearly 20 years ago, a poll showed that 52 percent of Americans favored outlawing handgun sales, the first to show majority support for a ban, and pollster Louis Harris--who conducted the poll--called it a "sea change of public opinion on this issue," according to an Associated Press report.

But you won't find that level of support today.

In fact, a 2011 Gallup Poll showed the lowest amount of support for a hand-gun ban (26 percent) since Gallup began tracking the issue in 1959. In that first Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans favored banning handguns. The Harris poll is from 1993.

Although instances over the years have propelled groups of people to call for stricter gun law enforcement--most recently the shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Oak Creek, Wis.--the public interest usually fizzles, and interest in legislatures rarely bubbles into new bills.

"The legal lay of the land has certainly changed in terms of efforts that might seek to ban handguns," said Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

Everitt said the support for a hand-gun ban has decreased over the years for primarily two reasons. For starters, there are no major voices, including none of the major gun violence prevention groups, calling for a national ban on handguns (the coalition itself has not had that as part of its policy position since the late 1980s).

Also, with a 5-4 decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller case heard by the Supreme Court in 2008, the court's new reading of the Second Amendment indicates that handguns cannot be banned even at a local level because there is an individual right to keep handguns in the home for self-defense, he said.

With that ruling, a handgun ban is "not even a legitimate policy option anymore," he said. "It's been taken off the table."

Thinking of the shootings in Aurora, the coalition is discussing how effective 'the mental health screenings for people who undergo background checks from federally licensed dealers are--screenings that Everitt described as "exceptionally shallow." Everitt also pointed out that one can obtain a gun without a background check if one buys a gun from a private seller.

Another focus is magazine limits and the availability of certain assault weapons, such as the AR-15 style assault rifle used in the Aurora shooting. "Our view is that that type of weapon has no legitimate purpose in the civilian population," he said.

The 2011 Gallup Poll showed that Americans have greater opposition to than support for a ban on semiautomatic guns or assault rifles, 53 percent to 43 percent. In 1994, Congress passed the federal assault weapons ban, which banned 19 types of semiautomatic weapons. That ban expired in 2004 and was not renewed.

Polls and surveys show Americans tend to support tougher enforcement of existing gun control laws rather than endorsing new legislation.

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