According to the latest Gallup Poll released yesterday, Americans generally support all nine of President Obama's gun control proposals announced last week. Nevertheless, as CBS reports today, passage of a federal gun control bill "faces long odds" in Congress. The Gallup poll provides a clue why: while most Americans favor increased gun control to curb gun violence generally, it simply is not a priority.
Criminal background checks highly favored. In the poll, 91% of all Americans favor mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales, with only 8% against this proposal. The proposal is aimed at curbing gun violence by closing the so-called "gun show" loophole, as well as the sale of guns over the internet.
Favor for a proposal does not mean passage of law. Americans were also strongly in favor (75%) of closing the "straw man" loophole, where someone who passes the required background check buys a gun for someone who has not. This statistic may be misleading, however: on Wednesday, Virginia tried and failed to close their state's gun show loophole according to news station WVEC.
Despite calls to cut deficit spending, there are open wallets for gun safety. Nationally, calls to reign in federal spending continue, as evidenced by the short-term debt-limit extension passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, as reported by USA Today. Nevertheless, Gallup reports that 82% of Americans favor an increase in government spending for mental health programs for young people, while 79% favor increased government spending to train police officers, first responders and school officials on armed attack response.
Gallup also reported that Americans were willing to open the federal wallet to the tune of $4 billion to hire 15,000 additional police officers (70%), and spend another $30 million to help schools develop emergency response plans (69%).
Gun, ammunition and magazine bans receive only modest support. Most Americans favor banning civilians from possessing armor-piercing bullets (67%), but were less enthusiastic about reinstating a ban on assault weapons (60%) or limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or less (54%), suggesting they did not see a clear connection between these items and gun violence.
Gun control is not a priority by a wide margin. However, when asked what measures should be given priority to prevent future school shootings, respondents said upgrading school security and the mental health system was a priority over gun control by over a two-to-one margin (65%). Priority for laws restricting the sale of guns and ammunition trailed at 30%, while those who had no opinion registered at 6%.
The Gallup pollsters concluded that:
If Congress is looking to public opinion for what to pass first, the poll indicates background checks, stiffer penalties on straw purchasers, bans on armor-piercing bullets, and more funding for police, school security, and mental health programs would face little public resistance. On the other hand, other gun control measures, such as bans on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, might not only be difficult to get through Congress, but hard to sell to Republicans and independents. At the very least, Congress needs to make sure that any action taken on guns is seen as supplemental to meaningful school security and mental health policy reforms, not a substitute for it.