Gun policy public opinion a year after Parkland shooting

By Jennifer De Pinto and Fred Backus

/ CBS News

Parkland shooting: one year later

One year after 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, most Americans on all sides of the issue say they are frustrated by the national debate over guns and gun policy.

As they have for a few years now, a majority of Americans want gun laws to be made more strict, but they don't expect Washington to make significant changes to gun policy.

After the Parkland shooting, students and others organized marches to draw attention to the issue. At the time, a CBS News poll found that 58 percent of Americans who supported stricter gun laws felt the marches marked a turning point in the effort to enact stricter gun laws. A year later, most stricter gun law proponents feel frustrated.

Looking forward, most don't expect any significant changes to gun laws over the next year. Both opponents and supporters of stricter gun laws feel this way.

Three in four Americans don't think it's likely that President Trump and Congress will pass any laws that will make significant changes to gun policy – an outlook that both gun control supporters and opponents as well as partisans of both sides share.

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Continued support for stricter gun laws with division on specific measures

It was the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut that marked somewhat of a turning point in the public's views on gun laws. The percentage backing stricter gun laws spiked in CBS News polling, jumping 11 points after that shooting from the year before. CBS News polling shows more than half of Americans have consistently backed stricter laws since 2014, regardless of whether the measure was taken after a high-profile shooting, or not.

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Overall, 56 percent of Americans want laws covering the sale of guns to be made more strict. As has been the case for years, views divide along partisan lines. Most Democrats and a slim majority of independents want stricter laws, while most Republicans either want laws to stay as they are or be made less strict.

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In looking at specific measures regarding gun policy, they meet with varying levels of support and opposition. There has long been strong majority support for universal or enhanced background checks for all gun buyers. In CBS News polling conducted just after the Parkland shooting, a large majority of Americans (87 percent) favored more money for mental health screening. Both of these measures found favor across party lines. Views have been somewhat more divided on items like banning assault weapons or AR-15 semi-automatics – the weapon used in the Parkland attack. Soon after that shooting, 53 percent favored a nationwide ban on the AR-15, though most Republicans opposed it.

One proposal that was debated extensively in the wake of the Parkland shooting was whether more teachers and school officials should carry guns in school. This was not supported by most Americans (44 percent favored it) but it was favored by a majority of Republicans.

In a CBS News Poll taken just weeks after the Parkland attack, more Americans felt arming teachers would lead to more violence (44 percent) than prevent it (29 percent). About a quarter thought it wouldn't have an impact.

Gun policy as voting issue

While a majority of Americans have supported stricter gun laws in recent years, it is often not a top election issue for most voters. Six in 10 voters who went to the polls in 2018 favored stricter gun control measures, according to CBS News national exit polling. But when voters were asked to choose from a list of four issues as the most important facing the country, gun policy was outranked by health care, immigration and the economy. Just one in 10 voters said it was their top concern. Gun policy was not a top priority for gun control opponents either.

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After the Parkland shooting, students rallied around the issue of gun policy, holding a number of high-profile marches and demonstrations across the country. Young people who voted in the midterms favored stricter gun laws in higher numbers than older voters, but CBS News exit polls found it was not the top issue of the choices offered, ranking behind health care and the economy. Gun policy ranked last as the most important issue among voters ages 18 to 29, as it did for voters overall.

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First published on February 13, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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