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

Has American Public Opinion Shifted on Gun Control, Over Time?
Gang interventionist Reverend Bell (L), and Danielle Lewis (C), mother of murdered junior football star (who was mistaken for a rival gang member), stand at the South Central Los Angeles location of his death holding up peace messages. MARK RALSTON/AFP/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].

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 having laws that restrict firearms. In the December 2012 poll, only 6 percent of Americans favor looser legal controls on guns [source: Saad].

However, that same 2012 poll found that a record 74 percent were opposed to a ban on handguns for anyone but police or other authorized personnel. This was the highest level since Gallup first asked that question in 1959. Pollsters speculate this could reflect Americans' wish to keep the right of self-defense in the wake of high-profile gun violence.

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