In the month between the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas and the Nov. 5 mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a new Gallup poll found that 51% of Americans prefer the government pass new gun laws rather than focus only on enforcing the current laws more strictly. This compares with 47% support in Gallup's previous measure in 2012, and it is the first time that a majority of Americans have favored passing new gun laws since Gallup first asked this question in 2000.
The latest data come from Gallup's annual Crime poll, conducted Oct. 5-11. Gallup last asked this question in December 2012, shortly after the Newtown, Connecticut, mass shooting in which 20 children and six adults were killed at an elementary school. At that time, support for passing new gun laws was up by 12 percentage points from 2011, when 35% favored it.
A different Gallup question in the latest poll finds 60% of Americans in favor of making the laws covering the sale of firearms stricter. For this question, respondents were offered three choices: make the laws more strict, make them less strict or keep them as they are. The question did not give the option of tighter enforcement of existing laws, which is likely why it elicited higher support for stricter laws than the either/or question. Still, support for new, stricter gun laws now exceeds 50% on both questions, with support increasing in recent years.
Women, Nonwhites, Democrats Lead the Way for New Gun Laws
According to Gallup, the choice between enforcing existing gun laws more strictly and passing new laws sharply divides Americans along gender, racial and political lines.
Solid majorities of women (60%) and nonwhites (62%) believe new laws are needed in addition to stricter enforcement of the current laws. At the same time, majorities of men (56%) and whites (52%) would prefer to have better enforcement without passing new laws, Gallup said.
The differences by party ID are even starker, Gallup said. Eight in 10 Democrats (81%) want new gun laws, whereas 73% of Republicans want stricter enforcement without new gun laws.
Residents of the West and Midwest are split evenly between the two options. However, Gallup said, residents of the East favor passage of new laws over stricter enforcement, by 62% to 36%, while residents of the South lean the other way (46% to 52%).
In terms of the types of new laws they would favor, the vast majority of Americans want stricter controls on the sale of guns, such as universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods. At the same time, they are split on whether there should be an outright ban on semi-automatic guns, while they broadly oppose making it illegal for civilians to own handguns.
From April 2000 to October 2011, a majority of Americans consistently preferred enforcing the current gun laws more strictly to passing new gun laws as the better approach to U.S. gun policy. That changed in December 2012 with the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, when the public first split evenly on the question.
Five years later, said Gallup, following more mass shootings -- in Charleston, South Carolina; Roseburg, Oregon; San Bernardino, California; Orlando, Florida; Las Vegas and elsewhere -- the percentage favoring new laws has crept past the 50% mark for the first time. Although this is lower than the support found when simply asking Americans if the laws should be more strict, less strict or kept the same, both questions now show majority support for stricter laws.
According to Gallup, it's possible that support for such laws has increased further since the Texas church shooting. It's also possible that the facts in that case could result, at least in the short term, in more focus on eliminating omissions and errors in the data used for firearms background checks.