A majority of Americans favor stricter gun laws, and most believe places of worship and schools have become less safe over the last two decades, according to a new poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
The survey was conducted both before and after this month’s mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand. It found that 67 percent of Americans support making US gun laws stricter, while 22 percent say they should be left as they are and 10 percent think they should be made less strict.
While a majority of Americans support stronger gun laws, proposals have stalled repeatedly in Congress in recent years. And in Idaho, proposed legislation seems to be heading in the opposite direction: reducing restrictions.
For instance, a bill that would lower from 21 to 18 the age limit for carrying a concealed handgun within city limits in the state without a permit or training recently passed the House and Senate.
Jared Huckstep, owner of Hux Customs, a gun shop in Chubbuck, thinks the bill is a great idea.
“You can sign up for the military at 18, why shouldn’t you be able to carry a gun?” he said.
Backers say the bill is needed to align gun laws in urban areas with rural areas where those 18 and older can already carry a concealed handgun, and it protects law-abiding citizens from accidentally breaking the law when they travel across a county and enter city limits.
But not everyone agrees with the proposal. Opponents say there’s a big difference between rural Idaho and urban Idaho and not allowing persons age 18 to 20 to carry a concealed handgun is reasonable to prevent accidental shootings and shootings resulting from altercations.
Boise Police Chief William Bones has spoken out against the bill.
“This is about giving 18-year-olds the ability to carry concealed in the areas where people are most concentrated … with no training, no evaluation for the readiness before we put that gun in the hands of an 18-year-old within our community,” Bones said according to an Idaho Press article.
Despite some opposition, that bill is headed to the governor’s desk.
Like many of those polled, some Idahoans do think gun laws should be stricter. But it can be difficult to garner enough support to make such changes in the red state.
“The Idaho Legislature is one of the most Republican-dominated in America, with the party controlling 80 percent of seats across two chambers. The current session is indicative of the difficulty that any gun legislation faces,” according to an article produced by Guns & America and Boise State Public Radio. “Even a bill to restrict the gun rights of certain sex offenders ran into intense opposition and had to be watered down in order to narrowly pass the Idaho House of Representatives. Proponents didn’t even bother bringing back a bill to keep guns out the hands of convicted domestic abusers, which failed in 2018, citing lack of support.”
In Idaho, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America activists successfully opposed a bill that would have allowed people with enhanced concealed carry permits to take their guns to public schools, according to the Guns & America and Boise State Public Radio article. But the group has relatively few political victories in the state.
“For us, we’re just trying to maintain our ground, where things are,” Kate Bell, an Idaho native and the group’s legislative volunteer, said in the Guns & America and Boise State Public Radio article. “It’s hard to get any proactive legislation going, but maybe in the future. We know it’s going to take time.”
While the poll suggests many Americans would support stricter gun laws, there’s a wide gulf between Democrats and Republicans on banning specific types of guns. Overall, 6 in 10 Americans support a ban on AR-15 rifles and similar semiautomatic weapons. Roughly 8 in 10 Democrats, but just about 4 in 10 Republicans, support that policy.
Republicans are also far less likely than Democrats to think that making it harder to buy a gun would prevent mass shootings, 36 percent to 81 percent.
Huckstep doesn’t think stricter gun controls would help, either.
“Criminals don’t follow laws, so if you make more laws you’re just putting punishments on the law abiding citizens,” he said, adding many places that have implemented more gun restrictions still have high crime rates. “Criminals are going to do what criminals do no matter what.”
Still, 58 percent of Americans think it would help prevent mass shootings, according to the poll.
In the U.S., some gun restrictions do garner support across party lines. Wide shares of both Democrats and Republicans support a universal background check requirement, along with allowing courts to prevent some people from buying guns if they are considered dangerous to themselves or others, even if they have not committed crimes.
Still, the United States has enacted few national restrictions in recent years. In part, that’s a reflection of gun rights being enshrined in the U.S. Constitution; in a poll by the Pew Research Center in spring of 2017, 74 percent of gun owners said the right to own guns is essential to their own sense of freedom.
But not everyone feels safer with guns around.
The AP-NORC poll found a wide share of Americans feel safety in churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship has worsened over the past two decades. Sixty-one percent say religious houses have grown less safe over the last two decades. Slightly more said so after the New Zealand shooting than before, 64 percent to 57 percent.
Nearly 7 in 10 believe elementary and high schools have become less safe than they used to be. And 57 percent say the same about colleges and universities.
Pocatello resident Charlene Bates, who works in the library at a local high school, said she believes a combination of factors has made schools less safe than in the past. Mental illness, parents who aren’t as engaged in their kids’ lives, social media and violent video games are among the reasons she cites for gun violence in schools.
“There are a lot of kids that you’re just unsure about, they’re kind of unstable,” Bates said. “There are some students who are quiet, keep to themselves and she wonders if they’re “like a bomb waiting to go off. ... I think that’s what scares me the most.”
While Idaho is one of the safest places in the United States, she sees coverage of mass shootings and violence elsewhere in the nation and around the world. Her school’s resource officer conducted some training recently and “he said it’s not if, it’s when. This is very likely to happen even in our community.”
“We aren’t isolated,” she said.
When it comes to places of entertainment, the public has mixed views. Nearly half consider concerts to be less safe than they were, and about as many say the same of bars and restaurants. Fewer — roughly a third — say sporting events have gotten less safe.
While many consider public transportation systems to be less safe, about a third of Americans say airports have gotten more safe over 20 years — likely a reflection of the stepped up security since the 9/11 terror attacks.
Overall support for stricter gun laws is unchanged since an AP-NORC poll conducted one year ago, a month after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people killed. The post-Parkland poll marked an increase in support for stricter gun laws, from 61 percent in October 2017.
But the strength of that support appears to have ebbed. The percentage who say gun laws should be made much stricter, rather than just somewhat stricter, drifted down slightly after reaching a peak in the post-Parkland poll, from 45 percent then to 39 percent now.