Poll: Americans support tougher gun laws, don’t expect Congress to act


Susan Page and Marilyn Icsman, USA TODAY
Published 11:11 a.m. ET Feb. 25, 2018 | Updated 3:09 p.m. ET Feb. 25, 2018


With every mass shooting, positions on gun control seem to harden more with no major breakthroughs. These advocates are accelerating efforts to bypass the system and create change at the community level.

Students, parents and others at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 17 call for gun control legislation.(Photo: Nicole Raucheisen/Naples Daily News)

WASHINGTON — Americans overwhelmingly support tougher gun laws, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, but they also overwhelmingly agree on this: Congress isn’t likely to act anytime soon.

In the wake of another deadly school shooting, this time in Florida, the disconnect between public opinion and predictions of legislative inaction is sharp. Advocates of gun control and others wonder if the outcry sparked by students who survived the shooting spree at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland might shake the political calculations that have stymied significant new limits on guns for decades.

In contrast, some in corporate America — from airlines to car rental companies — moved over the weekend to break ties with the National Rifle Association, the powerful D.C. lobby that has stood against the most far-reaching proposed gun laws. The NRA called their action “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”

“Right now it’s a joke,” said Greg Silva, 64, a retired electrical engineer from Reno, Nev., who was among those called in the poll. “If a person wants a gun they can go to a gun show and pass no checks. That’s ludicrous.” Licensed dealers at gun shows are required to conduct background checks, but private sellers are not.

As President Trump sends mixed signals about what he’ll support when it comes to gun legislation, his approval rating has fallen to its lowest level in the USA TODAY survey since he was inaugurated last year. Just 38% now approve of the job he’s doing as president; 60% disapprove.

That’s a steep drop from the president’s standing one year ago, in March 2017, soon after his first address to Congress had received good reviews. Then, 47% expressed approval, a high-water mark for him in the poll; 44% expressed disapproval.

What’s more, the intensity of feeling is hardening against the president. Now, the percentage who “strongly disapprove” of him is more than double the percentage who “strongly approve,” 39% compared with 16%.

A new CNN poll released Sunday put Trump’s approval rating at 35%, his lowest level in that survey.

The USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll of 1,000 registered voters nationwide, taken Tuesday through Saturday, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

On guns, a nation that is often divided on issues is remarkably united: 

  • By almost 2-1, 61%-33%, they say tightening gun-control laws and background checks would prevent more mass shootings in the United States.
  • By more than 2-1, 63%-29%, they say semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, used by the Florida shooter, should be banned.
  • By more than 6-1, 76%-12%, they say people who have been treated for mental illness should be banned from owning a firearm.

Even gun owners are inclined to support those three measures. But a majority of Republicans say tighter gun laws wouldn’t prevent more mass shootings, and they oppose banning semi-automatic weapons. 

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to support a ban on firearms for those who have been treated for mental illness, a proposal also backed overwhelmingly by Democrats and independents. 

“Everyone who commits a mass shooting has a mental issue,” says John Shaw, 60, of Madison, Wisconsin. “Preventing them from getting the gun is the most important thing.”

Despite the consensus on some measures, few expect Congress to toughen gun-control laws in the foreseeable future. Fewer than one in five, 19%, say the odds are excellent or good. More than three in four; 76%, rate them as fair or poor.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to predict Congress will act, 28% compared with 14%.

More: Florida school shooting: Broward sheriff probes claim that more deputies did not immediately enter school

NRA hits back at United Airlines, Delta, other companies for cutting ties

Armed with an AR-15, military veteran keeps watch on Indiana high school

There is a partisan divide on whether restricting access to guns or improving mental health care would do more to curb mass shootings. By a wide margin, Republicans and gun owners say improving mental health care would do more. Democrats and those who don’t have guns in their household are inclined to say restricting access to guns would do more. 

Overall, 39% say improving mental health care would do more; 31% say restricting access to guns would; 25% say both. 

There is bipartisan agreement on strengthening security at schools. By 58%-32%, those surveyed say schools should be required to have an armed police officer on site. By 62%-27%, they say schools should be required to have metal detectors at their doors.

Interestingly, younger adults are less likely than older ones to back those ideas, although a majority in both groups supported them. Among those 50 and older, 69% support metal detectors, for instance, compared with 53% of those under 35 years old. 

When it comes to Trump’s approval ratings, there also are some significant demographic divides. Younger voters are the least likely to approve of the job he is doing as president. Just 31% of those under 35 years of age express approval, compared with 42% of those 50 and older. 

The president’s standing is strongest among whites, although a majority still disapprove of him, 44% approve-55% disapprove. Only about one in five Hispanics and one in ten African-Americans approve of the job he’s doing.

The partisan divide was sharp, if unsurprising: 88% of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, 89% of Democrats disapprove.



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