In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, most Americans — regardless of party — favor tightening restrictions on firearms, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll.
But significant partisan divides remain — and perhaps relatedly, they exist alongside divides in knowledge about guns in America.
Eight-in-10 Americans told the pollsters they favor bans on assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and “bump stocks,” an accessory used by the Las Vegas shooter that allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire like an automatic weapon.
Eight-in-10 likewise said they favor a federal database to track all gun sales. On each of these questions, majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans all were in favor of the restrictions to some degree.
But the share who were in favor, as well as the intensity of their agreement, varied by party — sometimes widely. For example, 91 percent of Democrats, along with 76 percent of independents and 70 percent of Republicans, said they are for banning assault-style weapons.
However, 74 percent of Democrats “strongly favor” this kind of restriction, as opposed to “somewhat favoring” it, compared to only 48 percent of Republicans “strongly” in favor and 45 percent of independents who said so.
Similar divides existed on other restrictions — fully 88 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans, and 82 percent of independents favor banning bump stocks. But while three-quarters of Democrats “strongly favor” this kind of ban, only around half of Republicans and independents do.
This kind of discrepancy in intensity can be important to show the softness of support for a measure — and can be an indication of how the group less “strongly” in favor can be swayed as arguments become more hotly political on specific topics, like an assault-weapons or a high-capacity magazine ban.
This isn’t the only indication post-Vegas that Americans have an appetite for more gun control. A recent Morning Consult/Politico poll likewise showed that a majority of Republicans, along with Democrats and independents, favoring several different types of gun-control laws, including banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as creating a national gun-sale database.
But the new interest may be short-lived, Ipsos Public Affairs President Cliff Young said.
“What we know actually is that gun violence like this typically has a short-term effect on public opinion where there’s a crystallizing event” that temporarily bumps support for gun control upward, he said. “We expect there should be some sort of half-life to it.”
And importantly, while Republicans and Democrats alike support specific restrictions, the general idea of tighter gun control is much more firmly supported by Democrats than anyone else — 84 percent of Democrats said gun laws should be “a lot” or “somewhat” stricter than today, compared to 61 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans.
One-third of Republicans said gun laws right now are “about right,” compared to 23 percent of independents and just 9 percent of Democrats.
Partisan differences also showed up in exposure to guns — significantly more Republicans than Democrats have fired guns, own guns and have friends who own them, the survey shows.
And that dovetails with some particularly wide partisan gaps on attitudes toward guns. Two-thirds of Republicans agreed with the statement “owning a gun would make me feel safer,” compared to around just a third of Democrats.
Likewise, 72 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, “The benefits of gun ownership outweigh the risks.” Democrats were the near opposite of that, with 60 percent disagreeing.
And those different attitudes play into partisan gaps in Americans’ knowledge about gun facts, Young said. “Democrats see the issue through the lens of the risks that gun ownership presents, and Republicans don’t,” he added.
Young points to a true-false question in which 59 percent of Democrats responded correctly that it’s true that households with guns are more likely to experience a fatality from crime, accident or suicide than households without them. By comparison, 37 percent of Republicans and 39 percent of independents also responded “true.”
Republicans are more likely to own guns — and believe that the benefits of gun ownership outweigh the costs. The poll also showed that they tend to have more proximity to guns but less proximity to violence than Democrats. Altogether, that may contribute to Republicans perceiving guns as less harmful.
There was also a partisan gap in Americans’ knowledge of what Congress did (or didn’t do) after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, which left 20 children and seven adults dead.
Just 42 percent of Americans responded correctly to the statement, “After the Sandy Hook massacre, Congress put tough new background check laws in place.”
That’s false. There was an effort to pass stricter background checks, but it never passed.
More Democrats (52 percent) knew that than Republicans (36 percent).
The NPR/Ipsos poll was conducted online, surveying 1,006 adults from October 10-11. For the full sample, there is a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. For Democrats in the sample, it’s 6.1 percentage points; for Republicans-only, it’s 5.8 percentage points and for independents, it’s 8.2 percentage points.