Poll: No shift in opinion on gun control, post-Aurora shooting

Posted Aug. 02, 2012, at 5:22 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A new national poll finds that public opinion on gun control remains unchanged since the July 20 massacre that killed a dozen people and wounded 58 others at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.

As on other political questions, the nation remains evenly divided, with 47 percent saying it’s more important to control gun ownership and 46 percent putting a higher priority on guarding the right of Americans to own them. The numbers are from a new Pew Research Center opinion survey completed over the weekend and released Monday.

Nothing is happening on gun control in Washington, where Democrats regard it as a counterproductive issue, despite strong support from their base and a split among independent voters. President Barack Obama has spoken since the Aurora massacre about the need to renew federal restrictions on the ownership of assault weapons, but he’s not expected to act on the issue before the election.

Republicans remain adamantly opposed to any new gun laws.

The latest poll findings are essentially the same as those from an earlier Pew survey, in April of this year, which found that 49 percent of U.S. adults place a higher priority on gun rights, while 45 percent want more weight given to gun control.

“There has been no significant change in public views on the issue of control and gun rights,” said Pew’s analysis of the post-Aurora climate.

The same pattern was seen after other highly publicized shooting incidents over the last five years, which also had little effect on public attitudes toward guns — the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, which left 32 dead and 17 wounded, and the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and wounded 13 in January of last year.

According to the new poll, Americans were more likely to view the Aurora shooting as the isolated act of a troubled individual than was the case in those earlier incidents. In 2007, the public was evenly split on whether the Virginia Tech shootings reflected broader problems in American society.

But two in three Americans (67 percent) put the latest mass shooting into the category of an isolated event by a troubled individual. By comparison, 58 percent of those questioned shortly after the Tucson shooting and 47 percent after the Virginia Tech killings saw those as isolated events, rather than evidence of broader social problems.

Public opinion on gun control has remained divided since 2009, a change from an earlier period dating back decades, when controlling gun ownership was given a much higher priority.

The Pew poll noted that Americans remain polarized along party lines on the issue, with 71 percent of Republicans putting a higher priority on gun rights and 72 percent of Democrats favoring gun control.

The margin of error for the total sample of the 1,010 people polled is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Racial and gender divides on the issue also persist, with a majority of whites and men in favor of protecting gun rights. Blacks, by an overwhelming margin, want to put a greater emphasis on gun control, as do a clear majority of women, according to the new poll.

On Monday, the suspect in the Colorado shooting, James E. Holmes, was formally charged with 142 criminal counts, including 24 of first-degree murder, by authorities in Arapahoe County. A preliminary hearing in the case was set for Nov. 13, one week after the 2012 presidential election.

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©2012 Tribune Co.

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