10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate


Has American Public Opinion Shifted on Gun Control?

gun control debate
Students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School holding a sign that says "remember these people." Their school was shot up by a gunman on Feb. 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida and 17 people were killed. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In the early 1990s, Gallup polling showed that 78 percent of Americans favored tighter gun control laws. But that support declined dramatically over the next two decades, and by the mid-to-late 2000s, support dipped to just 44 percent, with nearly as many Americans (43 percent) saying that laws already were strict enough. But in the wake of the Newtown massacre, a December 2012 Gallup poll found a sharp rebound in support, with 58 percent favoring tougher gun statutes, compared to just 34 percent who said they wanted laws to remain the same [source: Saad]. The latest Gallup Poll in 2018 found support for stricter gun laws still hovering around 60 percent.

But Gallup data contains another important but often overlooked point. Though the number of Americans who want stricter gun control has gone up and down (and now up again), the overwhelming majority of Americans over the past 20 years have supported laws that restrict firearms. In a Gallup Poll from October 2017, only 4 percent of those polled said they oppose background checks for all gun purchases [source: Brenan].

However, that same 2017 poll found that a 71 percent were opposed to a ban on handguns for anyone but police or other authorized personnel. This down slightly from its record high 74 percent in 2012. Pollsters speculate this could reflect Americans' wish to keep the right of self-defense in the wake of high-profile gun violence.

Author's Note: 10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate

I grew up in western Pennsylvania, where the movie "The Deer Hunter" was set, and where a lot of my neighbors were avid hunters. So the idea of law-abiding people owning guns was never something I questioned. But except for my toy pistols, we didn't have any guns in our home, because my father, who wasn't a hunter, didn't want them around. He'd been a combat medic in the U.S. Army during World War II, and he had a huge, scary scar on his left bicep where a German machine gun bullet hit him on a battlefield in 1945. He'd had to bind up his own arm in a battlefield tourniquet, which enabled him to escape having it amputated. I still have a vivid picture in my mind of what a bullet can do to a person's body. I think that's given me a real-world perspective on the gun issue that a lot of debaters, who tend to get caught up in legal and constitutional abstractions, often seem to lack.

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