Two years ago, immediately after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., poll after poll showed broad support for new gun control measures.
But, in terms of policy, nothing happened. Congress failed to pass any new gun legislation. Most states couldn’t muster support, either.
Today, gun control seems to be on the run. Gun rights is winning the day.
An oft-cited proof of this new order is a Pew poll from December. That poll found that -- for the first time -- a majority of Americans favored gun rights (52 percent) over gun control (46 percent). As this Washington Post headline summed it up, “Two years later, Newtown has meant almost nothing to the gun debate.”
But some public health professors were bothered by the Pew poll and the conclusions broadly drawn from it.
Had Americans really abandoned their desire for new gun laws?
These professors at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health had conducted their own poll back in January 2012, just weeks after the Sandy Hook shooting. They had asked about specific gun control policies – such as a ban on assault weapons, preventing a felon convicted of a serious crime from having a gun for 10 years and requiring people to obtain licenses for buying firearms.
Back then, they found broad support for specific gun-control policies among both gun owners and non-gun owners. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
But those findings, along with just about every other poll from that time, were criticized as being symptoms of a post-Newtown frenzy. That time period – coming just after a horrific event – has been increasingly viewed as an anomaly.
So the Hopkins professors went back and asked the same questions earlier this year. And once again, the poll found strong support among by both gun owners and non-owners for limits on who can possess firearms and how they are sold.
“This suggests America still supports at relatively high levels a range of policies,” said Colleen Barry, associate professor and the study’s lead author.
The results were published in the Preventive Medicine journal.
Barry said it boils down to how the question is asked.
The Pew poll pitted gun rights vs. gun control, asking respondents which one they thought was more important.
The results appeared to show Americans have lost faith in gun control.
But drill down into specific policies, and you’ll find a broad base of support, Barry said.
The Hopkins 2015 study found large majorities favored gun regulations that are stronger than those currently seen in federal or most state laws.
For example, support for background checks for all gun sales stood above 80 percent for both gun owners and non-gun owners.
And even where support dropped between 2013 and 2015, clear majorities remained. People who supported an assault weapons ban fell from 69 percent to 63 percent. Banning large-capacity ammunition magazines went from 68.4 to 59.9 percent.
“The big picture shows Americans support these policies,” Barry said.
They just don’t support gun control in the abstract.