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.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The recent shooting in Las Vegas has sparked some soul searching, certainly more debate about guns in this country. And we have a new poll out this morning from NPR and Ipsos. And it reveals overwhelming support for various gun control measures across the political spectrum. NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben is here to talk this through with us. Hi, Danielle.
DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: So what stood out to you here when it comes to American attitudes about gun control right now?
KURTZLEBEN: Well, there are a couple big things. One is that we found that some gun control ideas really do get a lot of support. We found that 8 in 10 people are in favor of a variety of bans - for example, a ban on assault-style weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazines and a ban on bump stocks. Now, that we've heard about since Las Vegas. It increases the rate at which a semi-automatic gun fires.
KURTZLEBEN: But perhaps surprisingly, this includes strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans. Around 7 in 10 Republicans supported those bans, as well. But there is a bit of an enthusiasm gap here. While Dems tended to strongly favor those sorts of bans we talked about, Republicans - they're more somewhat in favor of them.
GREENE: Well, are there still larger disagreements, though, when it comes to gun control, I mean, if - even if there's some agreement forming around specific ideas like those?
KURTZLEBEN: Yes, absolutely. What we found is that both parties - they tend to look at guns through pretty different lenses. This is a pretty obvious question. But, you know, 7 in 10 Republicans told us that they believe that the benefits of guns outweigh the risks, compared to 3 in 10 Democrats. Once again, it's what you would expect to hear. But perhaps relatedly, Republicans were more likely to underestimate the levels of fatalities from crime, accidents and suicides that gun-owning homes face. What we seem to draw from this is that, you know, Democrats look at a gun - they're more likely to see risk. We're painting with a broad brush here, but they're more likely to see that, whereas Republicans are more likely to look at a gun and see protection and safety.
GREENE: Oh, interesting. So it really is different lenses.
GREENE: So is public opinion turning in some significant way, if there a way to measure this broadly? I mean, I remember the mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School - a lot of people thought, this is going to change the game, result in stricter gun measures, bring a lot of the country together. We didn't see a lot of new, stricter gun measures.
GREENE: So are things changing?
KURTZLEBEN: I mean, you know, we shouldn't necessarily see this as a turning point in people's attitudes on guns. You know, it is not unusual to see a small spike or a moderate spike in gun control support after a high-profile mass shooting. We saw something like this after Sandy Hook, like you said. We saw it after Columbine. You know, one of the pollsters we worked with told me that he thinks that this poll represents a 15 to 20-point bump in support for some gun control legislation post-Las Vegas. I mean, really, the thing to think about is that, overall, the trend, when you take out the spikes, has been away from more gun control support. The share saying that they think laws should be stronger has really declined since the '90s.
GREENE: So these fundamental divisions are - I mean, are helpful in explaining why the debate over gun controls has remained so static.
KURTZLEBEN: Right. Absolutely. And I mean - you know, I think one great way to look at this is through the lens of identity. Yes, it's about policy. Yes, it's about, you know, specifically owning a firearm in your household. But people identify as gun owners. And some people identify as people who are opposed to gun control. Those identities are very hard to dislodge. You know, we likewise see a pretty strong urban-rural divide in gun ownership. We saw that in the election, as well. These sorts of identities - urban, rural, gun owner and not - they're hard to change. And, therefore, people really stay very mired in the positions they're in.
GREENE: All right? Talking through a new NPR/Ipsos poll on guns in America with NPR political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben. Danielle, thanks.
KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.