Gallup's most recent poll on public attitudes toward gun laws shows that anti-gun activists and their friends in elected office and in the media have lost considerable ground over the years, and in the months since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut in December last year. However, it also shows that both sides in the gun control debate have their work cut out for them in the days ahead.
The poll found that 74% of respondents--an all-time high--oppose banning handguns, up from only 36% in 1959. Compounded with the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to have handguns and that it does so nationwide, that's bad news for the Brady Campaign, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and the Violence Policy Center, all formed by handgun prohibition activists in the 1970s and 1980s.
However, Gallup's poll found less opposition to gun control when less extreme laws are also considered. Asked "in general, do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?," 13% percent said "less strict" and 37% preferred that the laws be "kept as now." Forty-nine percent answered "more strict," down from 62% in 2000, up from 44% in 2011, and down from the 58% figure reported immediately after the Newtown crime.
One particularly bright spot in the poll is its finding that support for "more strict" gun control laws is highest among persons age 55 and older, and lowest among the youngest group polled, persons age 18-34 years. On the other hand, 27% of that age group favored a handgun ban, compared to only 18% among persons ages 35-54 years.
Of particular concern, however, is the vast difference in the gun control attitudes of self-described "Democrats" and "liberals," in comparison to those of "Republicans" and "conservatives."
The poll found that 77% of Democrats and 72% of liberals favor more restrictive gun control laws, as compared to only 33% of conservatives and 23% of Republicans. Similarly, 37% of Democrats and 33% of liberals support banning handguns, as compared to 17% of conservatives and 16% of Republicans.
Of course, in asking its questions, Gallup does not take the time to first remind people of the restrictive laws that are in place in some parts of the country. It's difficult to imagine that many Americans could think that the gun laws should be more strict in places such as California and the District of Columbia.
The "take-away" from the poll is that those of us who support the Second Amendment have, slowly but surely, been making our case with the American people, but by no means is the debate over the gun control issues that President Obama has brought to the national spotlight this year--moving one step closer to national registration of firearms by requiring private sales of firearms to be run through the instant background check system, or banning semi-automatic firearms and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds--anywhere close to having been resolved.