Guns: Finding Common Ground

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Three hundred million. That’s roughly the number of people living in the United States. It’s also, approximately, the number of guns in this country. Gun ownership, and the laws that govern it, is top of mind because of the mass shooting in Aurora last month and the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. First, a report from CPR’s Zachary Barr, who outlines where the country, and Colorado, stand on gun issues. Then, host Ryan Warner is joined by three Coloradans who wrote to us through our Public Insight Network. They have differeing views on guns and gun laws. We brought them together to debate the issues and see if we can identify some common ground.

(Click here to share your insight on the recent mass shooting.)

[Photo: flickr/Svadilfari]

Transcript of reported feature:

Reporter: One side is clearly winning this debate. Frank Newport is editor and chief with Gallup.

Frank Newport: There are a few up and downs, but in a broader sense, looking at big picture it’s been a steady decline in the percent of Americans that say gun laws should be made more strict.

Gallup has been asking Americans about gun laws every year since 1990. In that first year of polling, support for making gun laws stricter was high: nearly 80%.

Frank Newport: That dropped below 50% and in our most recent survey 43% of Americans said gun laws should be made more strict.

Public opinion has also flipped on assault rifles. Most Americans now believe these semiautomatic weapons should remain legal. And these gun rights trends are shared across demographics. Which is to say, when you analyze the polling data by people’s age, gender, region, and political party...every one of these sub-groups have become more conservative on gun laws over the past two decades.

Peter Brown: There’s no real taste for stricter gun control in Colorado.

Peter Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. It surveyed Coloradans on gun issues following the Aurora shooting. And its findings mirror Gallup’s. A majority of people feel gun laws should be kept the same.

Peter Brown: We did however ask about whether there should be a federal law banning high capacity magazine clips.

And 58% of Colorado voters favor outlawing this accessory....the kind James Holmes allegedly used to fire multiple rounds without stopping to reload. Holmes is also said to have bought thousands of rounds of ammunition online. U.S. representatives Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter have come out in favor of a bill that would make such internet purchases illegal. Perlmutter spoke to CBS, the weekend after the shooting.

Congressman Ed Perlmutter: We ought to be taking a look at how this guy was able to accumulate so much ammunition. I mean, he had enough ammunition for a small army. There’s something that’s wrong about that.

Luke O’Dell doesn’t see anything wrong with that. He’s spokesman for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a gun rights organization.

Luke O'Dell: Firearms and magazines are tools which are not in themselves inherently evil, it’s how they’re used.

The gun owners group is gaining ground in their effort to expand gun rights, coming close to passing bills that would allow concealed carry without a permit, and one that would give business owners the right to use deadly force to defend themselves. The group will push for those bills again next session. Long term, it wants to abolish so-called “criminal safe zones” - areas where people are not allowed to carry firearms.

Luke O'Dell: And the theater in Aurora was one of those, and they had a posted “no gun” sign. And we believe if there had been an off duty police officer, or one of the many concealed weapon permit holders had been able to carry the tragedy would might have been less destructive than it was.

Tom Mauser thinks that’s bogus.

Tom Mauser: If having more guns made us safer than we ought to be the safest nation in the world. And we’re clearly we’re not.

Mauser leads Colorado Ceasefire, a gun control group formed after Mauser’s son Daniel was killed in the 1999 attack on Columbine high school. After Columbine, voters passed a new law requiring background checks on firearms sold at gun shows. That was back when 66 percent of Americans believed gun laws should tightened. That number, and gun control advocates’ sway, has declined steadily ever since. And so, Mauser, as much as anyone, feels the impact of people’s changing views on gun issues.

Tom Mauser: In Colorado, Colorado Cease Fire spends most of it’s time on defense. We’re down at the legislature fighting ridiculous pro gun bills that are all designed to make guns available in more places, increase sales, reduce and take away from existing gun laws. We’re playing defense, we’re not playing offense.

That dynamic might change depending on the results of the November election, when Colorado voters decide whether Democrats or Republicans control the State House and State Senate.

Zachary Barr, Colorado Public Radio News.

Click listen above to hear discussion among Public Insight Network members about their experiences with firearms and opinions on gun laws.