The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One chart shows why Obama seems to have given up on gun control

U.S. President Obama delivers remarks in reaction to the shooting deaths of nine people at a church in Charleston on Thursday. Vice President Joe Biden listens at left. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
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Following the fatal shooting of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston Wednesday night, President Obama all but conceded that federal gun-control legislation has no chance of passage.

"Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hand on a gun," Obama said, as he, in my colleague Chris Cillizza's words, waved the white flag on gun policy. "And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it'd be wrong for us not to acknowledge it."

Obama's presidency has been punctuated by horrific gun violence, including the killing of 26 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. just after his re-election. While some gun-control policies still enjoy overwhelming public support, it hasn't been enough to overcome the determined opposition of activists and the loyalties of politicians in jurisdictions where support for gun rights is strong.

It wasn't that long ago that a broad majority of Americans supported gun control. In April 2007, 6 in 10 said controlling guns was more important than protecting Americans' right to own a firearm, according to the Pew Research Center. That figure had fluctuated some over the prior 15 years, but generally speaking, gun control was popular.

Something changed in the first year of the Obama administration, when support for gun-control measures fell sharply. Late last year, Pew reported for the first time that a majority of Americans thought that gun rights outweighed gun control.

And the shooting in Newtown--or any where else--hasn't changed that, as this Pew survey shows

Several previous mass shootings have not noticeably affected Americans' views on guns. Support for gun rights did decline after the Sandy Hook massacre, but only slightly in comparison to the overall trend.

Meanwhile, some policies remain broadly popular. The vast majority of Americans favor background checks for private sales and at gun shows, and two in three would support a federal database of gun sales. Public support for specific policies hasn't overcome widespread skepticism of gun laws, however.


President Obama reiterated support for gun control legislation as he addressed the U.S. conference of mayors on Friday, saying the South Carolina shooting shows that racism remains a “blight” in U.S. (Video: Reuters)