Civil Liberties

One Year After Newtown, Americans Not Interested in Gun Control



December 14 is the anniversary of the horrendous Newtown shooting, but despite the best efforts of opportunistic politicians, Americans show little sympathy for proposals to tighten restrictions on guns. In fact, firearms don't even appear on their list of concerns when asked what worries them by Reason-Rupe pollsters, although big government and politicians do. And when asked directly about tightening gun laws, people say that would have no impact on criminals' access to guns—a logical position to take, since nothing that's been proposed so far would have prevented Newtown shooter Adam Lanza from doing what he did.

Americans worry about a lot of things in an age of sluggish economic "recovery" and government incompetence put on display like an object lesson in stupid policy, poorly enacted. Asked an open-ended question about the "biggest problem facing the country today," people volunteered jobs/wages, worries about Congress, and social disunity, and nervousness over big government and the Obama administration. Two percent each even said that immigration and Republicans under the bed keep them awake at night. Any volunteeered concerns about guns in their neighbors' closets came in at too low a level to be recorded.

Which is not shocking at a time when homicides committed with firearms have been on a long-term downward trend, despite all-too-terrible incidents like Newtown.

Maybe that's because people understand that restrictive laws aren't the answer to every horrible headline. Sixty-three percent of poll respondents told us that tighter gun restrictions aren't going to stand between criminals and access to firearms. They certainly wouldn't have stopped Lanza, who used guns purchased by his mother, a squeaky clean citizen who bought her guns legally after passing background checks. And in case there are any questions about the past year's most popular gun to hate, Greg Ridgeway, the Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice, says that bans on "assault weapon" and "high-capacity magazines" are totally pointless. Add in the fact that 80 percent of criminals get their guns from "family, friends, a street buy, or an illegal source" according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and it's clear that Americans display more wisdom than the average politican.

It's not just the pool of folks answering Reason-Rupe's questions, either. An AP poll also conducted as the Newtown anniversary approaches found declining support for tightened gun restrictions, with half of respondents flat-out saying "laws limiting gun ownership infringe on the public's right to bear arms."

What might have helped prevent the Newtown shooting? A plurality (27 percent) favors better "mental health services," which has evolved into something of a default policy go-to in recent months for people looking for solutions. Mental health services might or might not help, depending on what people mean by "better" (pre-emptive detention for folks with the blues?). And while Adam Lanza had known mental health problems, nobody saw any warning signs to indicate he was about to go off the deep end.

Still, people do want to "do something," which might explain why Americans tell Reason-Rupe they're even willing to attempt the objectively unwise (arm TSA agents so they have something to wave around while they're groping you) and the overtly impossible (ban the 3D printing of guns). Anybody concerned that air travel is too popular might find giving TSA agents the arms to back their attitudes is an excellent way to trim the number of trips. And 3D printing of firearms was explicitly designed to be beyond the reach of goverment officials.

The Newtown shooting was a horrible crime. It was also a thankfully rare incident in an era of declining gun-related homicides, despite the headlines. One year later, Americans seem to understand that, and to largely reject authoritarian, knee-jerk responses.