WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican support for gun restrictions is slipping a year after Congress passed the most comprehensive firearms control legislation in decades with bipartisan support, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
That's led to a gap between Democrats and the GOP on the issue of guns that has widened in the last year. Democrats have consistently outpaced Republicans and independents in their belief that gun laws in the U.S. should be strengthened, but GOP support has dropped even further behind, the poll found.
Most Democrats, 92%, want gun laws made stronger, in line with their views in a UChicago Harris/AP-NORC poll conducted in July 2022. But Republican desire for more expansive legislation has dropped to 32% from 49% last summer and independents’ support also declined slightly to 61% from 72%.
“We’ve tried to legislate things for years without a lot of success, and I don’t really think law and regulation are the answer to our problems,” said Robert Lloyd, 57, of Booneville, Arkansas, who is a registered Republican but says he has “lost faith in both sides.” “I think our problems go way beyond guns.”
Yet despite the political divide, both sides believe it’s important to reduce mass shootings that plague the nation, the poll found. Majorities of Americans say they would support some additional restrictions on guns, particularly background checks and red flag laws, which allow law enforcement to remove weapons from a person believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Even with GOP and independent headwinds on more restrictions, lawmakers could still find support: Enforcing background checks on all potential gun buyers earns bipartisan support, with 93% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans in favor.
The AP-NORC poll highlights the complicated feelings Americans have around guns, particularly as the U.S. is on track to hit a record-high number of mass shootings in one year, gun violence is up in cities around the nation and President Joe Biden is vying for reelection next year and is pushing a platform restricting guns that was all but politically unthinkable for fellow Democrats as recently as Barack Obama’s term.
“I have grandkids now, and they both have bulletproof backpacks to go to school,” said Democrat Gina Suits, 58 of Brookfield, Wisconsin, outside Milwaukee. “I really feel stricter gun laws and the banning of assault weapons needs to happen. It’s our children.”
“If you really believe in gun laws, vote,” she said. “So we can get people in to make laws to save our children.”
Biden has said the law passed last year after a deadly mass shooting in a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school didn’t go far enough. He’s routinely called for banning so-called assault weapons, a political term to describe guns most often used in mass shootings with the capacity to kill a lot of people quickly.
The issue even came up in the GOP presidential debate Wednesday night, when two of the eight candidates onstage were asked how they would manage an increase in school shootings. Neither talked about gun control. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he'd send violent criminals to prison. Technology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said he'd put more police officers on the streets.
Overall, stricter gun laws are desired by a majority of Americans, regardless of what the current gun laws are in their state. That desire could be tied to some Americans’ perceived impact of what fewer guns could mean for the country — namely, fewer mass shootings. As of Monday, there have been at least 33 mass killings in the U.S. so far in 2023, leaving at least 163 people dead, not including shooters who died, according to a database maintained by the AP and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.
That puts the country on a faster pace for mass killings than in any other year since 2006, according to the database, which defines a mass killing as one in which four or more people are killed, not including the perpetrator, within a 24-hour period.
“I don’t think anybody should own a gun,” said independent April Gambrell, 47, who is married to a police officer and lives outside Tampa, Florida. Her husband has weapons at home in a locked safe, but she said it doesn't make her feel much safer and she worries about people who are untrained to use guns. “I don’t think it’s safe. It’s horrible that kids have to be brought up in this world today, and instead of talking out your problems, people want to use a weapon.”
More than eight in 10 Americans (85%) say it’s extremely or very important to them to prevent mass shootings, with bipartisan commitment to this idea, according to the poll. Nearly all Democrats (95%) and 81% of Republicans say it’s important to reduce mass shootings.
Any partisan divide appears to come down to whether people believe gun-restricting measures will ultimately prevent the attacks. Overall, though, 59% of Americans expect that if it were harder for people to legally obtain guns in the United States, there would be fewer mass shootings. Democrats are especially convinced of this (83%), with just one-third of Republicans in agreement. About half of Republicans, 54%, say that making it more challenging for people to legally access firearms would make “no difference” to the number of mass shootings in the country.
The 2022 law toughened background checks for the youngest gun buyers, sought to keep firearms from domestic violence offenders and aimed to help states put in place red flag laws that make it easier to take weapons away from people judged to be dangerous.
Those efforts remain popular. Along with overwhelming support for expanding federal law to require background checks on all potential gun buyers, red flag laws are also broadly popular, with 7 in 10 Americans favoring courts being permitted to prevent people who are considered a danger to themselves or others, but have not been convicted of a crime, from owning a gun.
And a majority, 58%, want a nationwide ban on the sale of AR-15 style rifles, which can rapidly fire many rounds and is routinely used in mass shootings, while 42% favored a law that would let trained teachers and administrators carry a gun at school.
The poll of 1,165 adults was conducted August 10-14, 2023, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.