Why school shootings don’t lead to tighter gun control in the US

December 14, 2012
December 14, 2012

School shootings do not affect public opinion about gun control

Mass shootings like today’s in the US suburb of Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and several adults were killed at an elementary school, are usually followed by calls for more gun control. One Democratic congressman has already weighed in with comments to that effect, and at a press conference just now at the White House, an emotional President Obama said vaguely, “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”

Typically, however, these shootings—no matter how frequent or horrific—don’t lead to any meaningful action. The chart above, drawn from polling by the Pew Research Center, may explain the disconnect. Public support for gun control doesn’t go up after mass shootings in the US. In fact, several recent shootings at schools were followed by sharp declines in support for gun control.

That may reflect the current political climate. President Obama mentioned gun control all of three times during the recent campaign, and his administration has been so gun-friendly that investors in gun stocks actually cheered his re-election. If anything, American policy toward guns has been more lax in recent years. Just yesterday, the state legislature in Michigan voted to allow concealed weapons in schools and other locations where they were previously illegal.

In the weeks to come, we’ll see if the magnitude of the tragedy in Newtown is able to affect public opinion and policy in ways that other shootings haven’t.

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