In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newton, Connecticut, Gallup finds Americans want stricter gun laws but a record number oppose gun bans. Some may have expected increased support for gun bans; however, Americans are not convinced that taking away private ownership of guns is necessarily the solution. They are, however, open to toughening gun laws.
A record high number—74 percent—of Americans oppose banning the possession of handguns, up from 67 percent in 2004. When Gallup first asked this question in 1959, only 36 percent of Americans agreed. Today, a record low number (24 percent) of Americans favor a handgun ban. Even the more relevant question of private ownership of semi-automatic guns shows opinions remain unchanged with a slight majority (51 percent) opposing a ban.
Interestingly, 42% of Americans think banning semi-automatics would be very effective at preventing mass shootings at schools and 21% think it would be somewhat effective. Yet, 51 percent still oppose banning these assault rifles while 44 percent favor. Moreover, Americans rated banning assault rifles fourth out of a list of six reforms Gallup asked about. It’s the middle 21 percent who are still uncertain about the effectiveness of banning assault rifles that hinders support for a ban.
Although the public opposes these gun bans, 58 percent favor stricter gun laws, up from 43 percent in 2011. Americans are evenly divided over whether to pass new gun laws or more strictly enforce existing laws: 46 percent want to enforce existing laws and 47 percent want new laws, up from 35 percent last year. At the same time, a CBS poll found that 50 percent of Americans thought that stricter gun laws would have had “no effect” in preventing the Newtown shooting; 26 percent thought it would have done “a lot” to prevent the tragedy.
Gallup asked about the efficacy of six potential reforms in efforts to prevent mass shootings. Fifty-three percent of Americans believe increasing the police presence at schools would be very effective at preventing mass shootings at schools. Half think increased government spending on mental health screening and treatment, 47 percent think decreasing media depictions of gun violence, and 42 percent think banning semi-automatics would be very effective at preventing mass shootings. The least popular reforms included a third who thought a school official should carry a gun (34 percent) and that the media should refuse to publish the names of the persons responsible for the shooting (27 percent).