The Pew Research Center has released a report showing that 52% of Americans favor the protection of the right to own guns, while only 46% favor controlling gun ownership. This is the first time in the two-decade long history of the poll that gun rights has surpassed gun control. It also represents a remarkable turnaround in public perception. In 1999, 66% favored gun control, and 29% favored gun rights.
As Shelby Baird and I discuss in The Shooting Cycle, other than brief spikes following mass killings in Columbine, or Virginia Tech or Newtown, there has been a decreasing mean for gun control. The Pew report reflects this change.
The balance of opinion favored gun control in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown tragedy in December 2012, and again a month later. Since January 2013, support for gun rights has increased seven percentage points – from 45% to 52% — while the share prioritizing gun control has fallen five points (from 51% to 46%).
Mapping the change of views since January 2013 (right after Newtown) to today is a striking reminder of the fact that these rare, isolated killings, as tragic as they are, only temporarily impact the cultural zeitgeist, and soon things return to how people viewed them before.
In fact, more people today think that guns are likely to protect people, than to put people at risk. The gains here come from people who were previously undecided. In December 2012, 16% didn’t know. Now only 5% didn’t know. Of that change in 11%, 9% made up their minds that guns make people safer. This is remarkable.
Since Newtown, virtually every single demographic favors stronger gun rights–men, women, old, young, white, black, educated, parents, urban, moderate Democrats, and others.
Over the past two years, blacks’ views on this measure have changed dramatically. Currently, 54% of blacks say gun ownership does more to protect people than endanger personal safety, nearly double the percentage saying this in December 2012 (29%)
Only liberal Democrats and Hispanics have not increased.
As was the case in December 2012, a majority of Democrats (60%) say guns do more to put people’s safety at risk, while only about a third (35%) say they do more to protect people from becoming crime victims. By contrast, eight-in-ten Republicans say guns do more to protect people from becoming crime victims, up 17-points from 2012.
The Washington Post echoes our conclusion:
These numbers may capture the short memory of many Americans. But the long-term trend is undeniably grim for gun-control advocates, who seem to be losing ground even among their strongest traditional sympathizers.