The National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Dallas, Texas this week comes after three of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, which have all occurred in the past seven months. These three massacres -- at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and a high school in Parkland, Florida -- have re-ignited debate across the country about gun control. President Donald Trump, who has made conflicting statements about his position on gun control in recent months, is scheduled to address NRA members for the fourth consecutive year at this week's meeting.
In the aftermath of the recent mass shootings, Gallup conducted several polls to gauge the public's attitudes toward guns. A poll conducted several days after the Las Vegas shooting in October found strengthened support for stricter gun laws. Yet, many Americans, particularly those whose opinions align with the NRA, remain staunchly opposed to any changes to existing gun laws.
The most recent Gallup polling about guns was conducted after the Florida school shooting in February. In addition to several nationwide polls gauging the public's attitudes toward guns and preventing mass shootings, a nationally-representative poll of teachers provided unique insights into their opinions.
Here are some of the key takeaways from this recent polling on guns:
- Support for stricter gun laws reached 67% in March, the highest percentage since 1993. This reading came several weeks after the Parkland, Florida school shooting claimed the lives of 17 people. It marked a seven-point increase from an October 2017 poll, which was also elevated following the Las Vegas mass shooting of 58 people.
- Partisans' views of the need for stricter gun laws diverge, but Republicans' and independents' support of restrictions increased after the Florida school shooting. Still, the difference is stark as 90% of Democrats but only 41% of Republicans want the laws covering the sale of firearms to be made stricter.
- Gun control does not typically rank high on the list of the nation's most important problems, but a March Gallup poll found a record high 13% of Americans cited guns or gun control as the country's most pressing problem. However, by early April, guns had fallen to 6%.
When Gallup last asked Americans for their opinions of the National Rifle Association in October 2015, 58% viewed the organization favorably and 35% unfavorably. Although Gallup has not asked the question recently, CNN did so in the week after the Florida school shooting using the same wording as Gallup. In the CNN poll, 41% viewed the NRA favorably and 49% unfavorably, indicating its image had taken a hit.
In the weeks after the Florida shooting, Gallup polling addressed guns and schools and found broad public support for a number of approaches to prevent mass shootings in schools. With near unanimity, Americans favored more training for first responders to active shootings and background checks for all gun sales. Increased security at schools and programs to manage students deemed a potential threat also received broad bipartisan support. Americans were least likely to favor arming teachers and school officials, something something fewer Democrats (22%) favor than Republicans (69%).
In a parallel series of questions, Gallup asked the public to rate the effectiveness of the same seven proposals. Again, more training for first responders and background checks were viewed as the most effective measures that could be undertaken to combat future casualties in the nations' schools. But, despite being advocated by Trump and the NRA after the Parkland shooting, only 27% of Americans said arming teachers and school officials with guns would be a very effective or somewhat effective way to limit school shootings.
Several of Gallup's long-term trends about guns, though these questions have not since October 2017 after the Las Vegas shooting, provide some valuable insight into the direction of public opinion. Americans' support for handgun possession has been consistently in majority territory for two decades. But support for banning assault weapons, which have been used in some of the deadliest U.S. mass shootings, including those in the past seven months, has been much less consistent. While 61% of Americans opposed a law that would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles in 2016, Americans were evenly divided in their support for such a ban after the Las Vegas shooting.
Gallup's in-depth look at the opinions of U.S. teachers in March found 73% of teachers opposed the proposal to have qualified teachers and staff carry guns in school buildings. About seven in 10 teachers also did not see this as an effective way to limit the number of casualties in the event of a shooting at school, and nearly six in 10 teachers believed arming teachers would result in less safe schools.
Four in 10 U.S. teachers do not think their school has adequate security to keep potential shooters out. The same percentage think their school is not prepared to protect students and staff if an armed shooter is inside the school. Meanwhile, 36% of teachers say they are personally at least somewhat worried about the possibility of being a victim of a shooting in school, and slightly more, 45%, have the same fear for their students. High school teachers were the most likely to say their students talk about school shootings -- 45% said it was discussed at least a moderate amount. The events in Parkland, Florida mobilized survivors there to start an anti-gun movement that sparked student-led protests all around the country.
- There is broad agreement among teachers on the effectiveness of several measures aimed at reducing the frequency and severity of school shootings, including background checks on all gun sales (87%), a nationwide ban on semi-automatic assault rifles (75%) and banning "bump stocks" that convert ordinary guns to fire at nearly the same rate as machine guns (74%).
The mass shootings in recent months have altered many Americans' opinions of guns in the U.S. as more Americans support stricter gun laws than at any point in the last 25 years. Mass shootings, particularly those occurring in schools, have typically ignited national debate about guns and increased the public's appetite for tighter gun regulations. Yet, the most recent high school shooting sparked a new phenomenon -- the mobilization of student anti-gun activists across the country. If lawmakers try to pass legislation that would reduce gun violence, they will need to find common ground with gun rights' advocates, including some of those at this week's NRA meeting.
Editor's Note: The text of this article was updated to reflect the effect of a "bump stock" on a gun on September 19, 2018.