Does gun control suddenly have enough momentum to actually pass?
There are reasons to be skeptical, but there are also reasons to think prospects are improving — albeit incrementally. And this new Quinnipiac University poll speaks to that.
The poll shows 66 percent of Americans now support stricter gun laws — the highest that number has been since at least 2008. It's also higher, notably, than it was in early 2013, just after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. As recently as 2015, slightly more Americans opposed stricter gun control than supported it; today, support is more than double the opposition.
The poll also shows an uptick in support for a ban on so-called “assault weapons." Yet again, about two-thirds are in support (67 percent), while about 3 in 10 oppose (29 percent). In February 2013, 56 percent supported the assault weapons ban.
The poll also finds a new high when it comes to the two-thirds who say it's “too easy” to buy a gun (up from 55 percent in late 2015) and the number who think more guns would make us less safe (59 percent vs. 47 percent in late 2015).
It's one poll, but for a gun-control movement anxious to turn the tragedy in Parkland, Fla., into action to prevent further bloodshed, it suggests the political backdrop is more favorable than at any point in the past decade. Combine it with the White House's verbal nods toward the debate and the staying power the Parkland high-schoolers' calls for gun control have had in the media, and it suggests we may be breaking some new ground here.
At the same time, the most serious impediments to gun control remain — and even the Quinnipiac poll shows them.
As with The Washington Post/ABC News poll that came out earlier Tuesday, it shows Republicans have a far different prescription for preventing mass shootings than Democrats and even independents. Thirty-four percent of Republicans in the Q poll say they support stricter gun laws (60 percent oppose them), and 43 percent support the assault weapons ban. About 8 in 10 Republicans say they prefer metal detectors (41 percent) and armed teachers (38 percent) to stricter gun laws (9 percent) when it comes to preventing gun violence in schools.
Similarly, the Post/ABC poll shows that 29 percent of Republicans think stricter gun laws could have prevented the tragedy in Parkland, while 59 percent say armed teachers could have.
In contrast to the answers on guns, the Post/ABC poll shows much greater bipartisan agreement on mental health screening and its role in possibly deterring what happened in Parkland, with about 8 in 10 Republicans and Democrats saying it could have prevented what happened. Yet Democrats have largely viewed that debate as an attempt to shift focus away from guns — even a cop-out for Republicans.
The White House's nod toward reforming the background checks system is notable, but it's not difficult to see it declaring whatever is produced by Congress to be a partisan effort to confiscate guns, which is what the National Rifle Association has long argued about basically any gun-control proposal Congress has produced. It's one thing to say you are open to improving the system — who could be against that, anyway? — but that's far different from signing off on what is produced.
Trump's surprise announcement Tuesday afternoon on bump stocks -- or modifications that effectively turn a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one -- is also worth paying close attention to. Justice Department officials had previously suggested they could not regulate bump stocks, and Democrats have suggested that review process is merely a delay tactic. It's not yet clear what exactly has changed.
The devil is truly in the details on guns. And even these polls show the president's base simply doesn't believe background checks — or any gun restrictions, really — are the answer, no matter how the public at large has moved on this issue. Until that changes, even a huge majority calling for more gun laws is unlikely to succeed.