It’s been less than two weeks since a gunman fatally shot 17 people and injured more than a dozen others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the days that have followed, teens all over the country have protested in support of stricter gun laws, confronted elected officials, and called for nationwide walkouts and marches. New polls find that a vast majority of Americans favor various reforms that would make it harder to purchase firearms, yet Congress, state politicians, and President Trump have so far not taken any action to these ends.
Public support for gun control tends to increase following mass shootings, but the findings of new polls indicate that the Parkland shooting has had even more of an impact on the public’s opinions about gun reform than other recent major shootings. A new CNN poll found that 70 percent of Americans are in favor of stricter gun laws. This is a huge jump from a CNN poll taken last October following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, when 52 percent of those polled said they support stricter gun laws. CNN reports that current support for gun control is the highest it has recorded since the early 1990s.
The policies with the most support are restricting convicted felons and people with serious mental illnesses from buying guns, banning people under 21 from buying guns, making it illegal to sell or own “high capacity or extended ammunition magazines,” and a total ban on assault weapons, according to the CNN poll. Despite these being the popular reforms preferred by most Americans, Congress is mostly talking about strengthening background checks.
Other polls have found slightly lower numbers than CNN, but still show much higher support than we’ve seen in the past. Last week, the Quinnipiac University National Poll found that 66 percent of Americans now favor stricter gun laws, which is the greatest level of support the poll has ever recorded. Tim Malloy, assistant director of the poll, said in a press statement, “If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again. Support for stricter gun laws is up 19 points in little more than 2 years.”
With popular support for more gun control laws spiking and a youth movement against gun violence that is boiling over following Parkland, there’s significant pressure on politicians to act. However, state and national politicians, particularly Republicans, have failed to make any progress on gun reform.
On February 21, the Florida House voted down a measure to debate a bill that would ban the sale of assault weapons in the state. Students from Douglas High School were present, and many were visibly upset after the measure failed. Also last week during a televised town hall, Florida senator Marco Rubio refused to say he would cease accepting campaign funds from the National Rifle Association, but suggested he would consider supporting raising the minimum age requirement for buying a gun.
In the days following the tragic shooting, the president initially floated support for a higher minimum age requirement for gun buyers, but CNN reported yesterday that Trump is already reconsidering that support. Trump has, however, directed the Department of Justice to draft a ban on bump stocks, a modification to firearms that makes them easier to fire rapidly. The president has also said he supports arming school teachers and giving bonuses to educators who take gun training, which has a surprising amount of support among Americans.
Though many more Americans than in recent years support stricter gun laws, many are also paradoxically supportive of putting guns in the hands of teachers, as the president has suggested as a solution to gun violence in schools. According to a CBS poll released last Friday, 44 percent of Americans favor allowing “more teachers and school officials to carry arms” in schools, with 50 percent opposed to this idea. The vast majority of those who support arming teachers are Republicans (68 percent) and Independents (47 percent).
However, this idea hasn’t yet reached the point where it’s being suggested for consideration by Congress. There’s also the matter of how exactly the government would pay for such a policy. After Trump talked to the press about his idea to give bonuses to teachers who train to use guns over the weekend, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters, “I think that if we find the policy solutions that make the most sense that we can get buy in for, we’ll figure out the rest of the pieces that you outlined,” CNN reported.
Though more Americans approve of more gun control measures than they have in the past few decades, elected officials from Florida to DC have so far failed to deliver a policy that meets the public’s preferences.
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(photos via Joe Raedle/Getty Images + Zach Gibson/Getty Images)