TOPIC A What are the prospects for gun control?
Topic A: Gun control's prospects after Tucson
Director of survey research at the Pew Research Center
The public opinion climate for more regulation of guns is significantly chillier today than it was two or three decades ago. In 1990, 78 percent of the public told a Gallup poll that they felt that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made stricter; in October of last year, just 44 percent said this. A sizable shift in public sentiment has taken place in just the past two years. The percentage of the public saying it's more important to control gun ownership than to protect the rights of Americans to own guns dropped from 58 percent in April 2008 to just 50 percent in a September 2010 Pew Research Center poll. There is a very large partisan divide on the issue, with 70 percent of Republicans but only 30 percent of Democrats saying it's more important to protect the rights of gun owners than to control gun ownership.
Incidents similar to the Arizona shootings, such as the murders at Columbine High School in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007, had no lasting impact on public attitudes about the issue. And even in years when there was more public support for gun control than there is now, legislative action on the issue often responded more to opponents of gun control. One reason may be that relatively few elected officials, especially in recent years, have spoken out strongly in favor of gun control, leaving the issue to be defined mostly by opponents.
President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
Too many assume that Congress - once again - will respond to a major mass shooting by doing nothing. But I believe the tragedy of Tucson will lead to change.
When gun violence becomes personal - for example, for Ronald and Nancy Reagan and many of their supporters after the 1981 assassination attempt - people adjust their thinking. Because last weekend's target was a member of Congress, debates about protecting politicians and the American people cannot be avoided.
This shooting also highlighted, again, our weak gun laws. Those laws made it legal for the gunman to buy military-style ammunition magazines holding 30 rounds; to buy the gun capable of firing those bullets; and to carry that loaded gun without a permit. Not until the gunman fired at Gabrielle Giffords did he break any law.
This shooting shows also that sensible laws can reduce gun violence. The toll from Tucson would been have minimized had Congress not let the ban on high-capacity clips expire in 2004.
Consider that in space flight, our response to a tragedy - the Challenger explosion, for example - includes presidential commissions and congressional hearings. A commission and congressional hearings to prevent gun violence are necessary now.