A lot has changed since 2015. More lives have been lost and forever altered due to gun violence than ever before in US history with almost 40,000 firearm related deaths occurring in 2017 alone. Public opinion on gun policy has consequently evolved. Across the country, 45 states have passed over 200 gun safety laws in just five years.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research conducts a survey of public opinion on gun policies every two years. Survey respondents included gun owners, non-gun owners, residents of 39 different states, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Results show that in just four years, support for gun safety laws has increased, about five to seven percent on average. In addition, the 2019 survey included multiple new questions on laws regarding 3D printing, safety training requirements, and raising the minimum age for ownership that had not previously been surveyed.
Support for safe storage was highest from respondents residing in California, Connecticut, Florida, New Mexico, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia. Meanwhile, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and South Dakota all passed laws in 2019 that would allow civilians to carry handguns in public without any safety training.
Risk protection laws allow family members to request that a court temporarily suspend an individual’s right to possess or purchase a firearm, either out of fear of potential interpersonal violence or suicide. Out of the 17 states that currently have risk protection laws, 15 have passed them since 2016.
From 2015 to 2019, the majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents continue to support policies that would ban assault rifles and enhancements such as bump stocks, which are devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire more quickly. Despite this, only Massachusetts and New Jersey have succeeded in passing bump stock bans out of the 30 states that tried in 2017 in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people, wounded 413, and left hundreds more to deal with the trauma of survival.
Lack of consensus on concealed carry may explain the lagging progress in restricting it. Most states have instead loosened concealed carry laws since 2015. In 2019, Indiana, Texas, and Virginia all passed laws allowing guns on church grounds less than a year after a gunman killed 8 and injured 25 in a church in Odessa, TX.
Public opinion led to political action immediately after the shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. Constituencies in Florida were successful in raising the minimum age for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21, establishing a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases, and passing a ban on bump stocks. More often, however, public opinion struggles to have a meaningful influence on policy reform, particularly at the federal level. This is largely due to the National Rifle Association’s monetary hold over the US government and national firearm policy.
Can public opinion on gun policy influence change federally, or will stagnation in Congress continue to influence the number of people killed, injured, and traumatized by gun violence every year?
Guns laws have evolved since 2015, but in a patchwork pattern. What hasn’t changed since then is that the majority of US citizens continue to support many gun safety policies. That number appears to be increasing for both gun owners and non-gun owners and across all political parties. Can public opinion on gun policy influence change federally, or will stagnation in Congress continue to influence the number of people killed, injured, and traumatized by gun violence every year?
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