As the conversation surrounding the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colo., shifts toward a discussion on whether the event justifies action taken to expand gun control, it’s important to recognize how opinions on gun ownership have shifted in recent years.
Despite events such as the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, the Beltway sniper spree in 2002, the shooting at Virginia Tech University in 2007 and the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting in 2009, support for gun control has steadily declined throughout the country, with Americans increasingly satisfied with the status quo of gun rights.
A Gallup poll conducted in January found that 50% of people are at least somewhat satisfied by the state of America’s gun control laws, while 42% either very or somewhat dissatisfied. That marks a significant leap from 38% satisfied and 57% dissatisfied in 2001.
Of those dissatisfied, a significantly larger amount, 25% to 8%, want stricter controls to be enacted than not, but amid the rise of right-to-carry laws and the expiration of the assault weapons ban, gun rights advocates have little reason to be surly about the current state of affairs.
A more recent poll, conducted in April by Pew Research, mirrored this change in priorities on the issue. Forty-nine percent of Americans place higher importance on the right to own a gun, compared with 45% who prioritize controls on gun ownership. That difference, the second time Pew has observed more emphasis on gun rights than gun controls in its polling on the matter, is a marked decline from a peak of 66% focusing on gun control and 29% focusing on gun rights in 2000.
This leaves those calling for a legislative response to the shooting in Colorado in a precarious position. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) called Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” for a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban as just the start of a congressional responsibility to enforce stricter gun controls, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) placed some of the blame for congressional inaction on gun control on the influence of the National Rifle Assn.
“The gun organizations go out to defeat people in states where they can, and they pour a lot of money in and some people lost office after they voted for the legislation before,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.”
But Congress’ most prominent action on gun control, which allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, is favored by the public as well as gun organizations, 53% to 43% according to Gallup.
And the Supreme Court, in its 2008 ruling against the District of Columbia’s ban on handgun possession and its 2010 ruling against a similar ban in Chicago, has done its part to strengthen the legal precedent against gun control initiatives.
The 12 dead and 58 wounded after James Holmes allegedly opened fire during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” Friday will be mourned in a public vigil Sunday beginning at 6:30 p.m. in Aurora, Colo., with President Obama earlier in the day speaking to the families of those affected. But given the momentum against gun control in the court of public opinion, it appears unlikely that the fallen and wounded will be memorialized through legislation.