WASHINGTON, D.C. - A push to unite the country around increased gun control policies following the Sandy Hook school shooting has seemingly backfired two years later, with the majority of the public saying they support gun rights over gun control.
A Pew study released last week found that for the first time in more than two decades, the public supports gun rights over gun control efforts, 52 to 46 percent. The findings are almost exactly the reverse of poll results following the Sandy Hook shooting, which took the lives of 27 people in Newtown, Connecticut. At the time, polls found 51 percent favored “controlling gun ownership” and 45 percent favored “protecting the rights of American gun owners.”
Pew’s recent study also found that 57 percent of those polled in 2014 believed gun ownership protects people from crime while only 38 percent believed it puts people’s safety at risk.
The shift in poll numbers shows that the national dialogue surrounding gun rights in the U.S. has been anything but linear. Following the Newtown shooting, Congress failed to pass any meaningful gun control legislation.
Public support for an assault weapons ban hovers around 60 percent while pro-gun groups such as the National Rifle Association have successfully pushed gun rights as a point of national pride.
However, at least one gun policy expert is critical of the conclusions made in the Pew report.
“I understand why Pew continues to ask the same questions so they can have these nice trends, but it’s a very curt measure of how people feel about the regulations of guns,” said Daniel Webster, director of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Gun Policy and Research.
“With a general question on how people feel about gun control, I’m assuming people are responding to the very aggressive measures [there have been] to ban guns or curb gun ownership.”
He says the trend towards favoring gun rights over gun control may not stem from an increased propensity towards gun ownership, but is instead likely related to the current state of the U.S. government.
“A lot of people don’t have trust in government and that’s why there was such a shift of voting in November. And there are lots of different incidents in the news that don’t put police in the best light either,” he said. “I think how you feel about the government and the police might be driving how you vote in these polls.”
Nevertheless, it’s not a secret that gun rights groups have generated increased support and leverage. The NRA and other pro-gun rights groups nearly succeeded this year in ambushing President Obama’s choice for surgeon general.
Dr. Vivek Murthy’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate Monday after being held up for more than a year following the NRA’s attempts to thwart the nomination. Murthy had previously tweeted that guns were a “public health issue.”