Americans' Support For Gun Control Rises

This year has been a deadly year for gun violence, with not for profit analysis group Gun Violence Archive reporting at least 8,512 deaths nationally in 2015 — twice as high as the number of Americans killed by terrorism on home soil since 1970. With mass shootings becoming the norm and unflinching legislators taking turns waving off the crisis, gun lobbyists and the NRA seem more determined than ever to steer the conversation away from addressing the problem. Fortunately, the public isn't buying it: A new Gallup survey released on Monday showed that more Americans today support gun control than in 2014 — tragedy, it seems, is taking its toll.

According to the new survey, in the past 12 months, the number of people who support stricter gun safety measures has jumped six points from 49 percent to 55 percent. The number of those who said they believe gun laws should remain as they currently are also dropped a few percentage points. Interestingly, despite the picture painted by lobbyists and right wing politicians, the number of those who support less strict gun laws has also dropped by a couple percentage points.

Of course, year-to-year change in gun control favorability numbers isn't exactly new, but the sudden collaborative trend between all three categories — those who support gun control, those who feel it's already effective, and those who favor less gun control — has started people talking. So what's behind the shift?

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"In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 [...] 58 percent of Americans said they were in favor of stricter laws on gun sales," Gallup wrote on Monday, explaining that while that percentage decreased slightly in the months following the tragedy, as media coverage began to wane, it never did dip back to the pre-Sandy Hook numbers. This past week, the stats saw another similar jump, following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College. "The latest increase, from the Gallup Crime poll conducted October 7-11, came in the days after the most recent high-profile mass shooting, at a community college in Oregon." Gallup added that the numbers reflected Americans' views on gun sales only.

Even more interesting than the rise in support for increased gun control — which statisticians indicated could partly be the result of a shift in partisan demographics (i.e. more Americans leaning Democratic or Independent) — was the increase among gun owners themselves. From 2014 to 2015, the number of gun owners who favored stricter gun laws jumped from 30 percent to 36 percent, and as The Washington Post found in a recent report, those gun owners are disappointed that their voices aren't being taken into consideration in all the heated anti-gun/pro-gun debate.

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"There's this perception that people are neatly divided into folks who want an M1A1 Abrams battle tank to drive to work and those who want to melt every last gun and bullet into doorstops," Milwaukee-based science fiction author and gun owner Patrick Tomlinson told the Post earlier this month. "There seems to be no middle there, but I know there is. I'm in it."

Compounding the tarnished image of the rifle-toting NRA loyalist are startling numbers compiled by the Post's Wonkblog, which last week published a graph charting the number of toddler shootings in the United States since the start of 2015. According to the report, 43 children of toddler age have either been killed by or involved in accidental gun violence this year alone. Of those 43, Wonkblog explained, 13 "inadvertently" shot themselves, 18 were injured when a firearm they were handling went off, 10 injured other people, and two accidentally killed other people.

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Results of enacting new laws prohibiting gun sales to certain parties or requiring increased safety measures or "smart gun" technology for households with children have yet to be determined, but already, at least some of the gun store owners who have attempted to implement such changes have run into terrifying and unforeseen backlash.

In May 2014, Rockville, Maryland, gun shop owner Andy Raymond became the victim of harassment and violent death threats after he announced he would be selling a new brand of smart gun — one that can only be fired if the user is wearing a wireless wristband that transmits a signal via a unique frequency — in his store. The majority of Raymond's critics were gun-rights advocates who felt the move would somehow infringe on their Second Amendment rights. (Raymond told The Concord Monitor at the time that one man had called him, asking if he was "the guy selling the smart gun," to which he answered yes. Raymond claimed the man then replied, "You're gonna get what's coming to you, (expletive).")

Any tangible progress on the gun front is going to depend on the actions of politicians on the Hill and the field of candidates jockeying for the White House — and as of this moment, there's more than enough stubborn talk to keep any effective gun safety legislation from living past its infancy.

Take GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon currently sitting in the number two position on the Republican side: during a stop in Iowa following the tragic UCC shooting, Carson dismissed proponents of stricter gun laws by saying, "You're not going to handle [tragedy] with more gun control because gun control only works for normal law abiding citizens — it doesn't work for crazies." Or perhaps the words of Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who infamously quipped in an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group the following week, "You have to ask the question, does this president want more murders? Because what he's pushing for (stricter gun laws) causes them."

Whether Congress and the next president allow a progressive wave of new safety measures and smart gun technology to flood the firearms market in the coming years, while simultaneously playing nice with gun owners, seems to largely hinge on a comparable increase in mass shootings and tragic accidents that would hopefully force their hand. Until the bloodshed hits a certain point, it seems those in favor of stricter gun laws will have to take the recent Gallup numbers as a small victory.