CBS Poll: Support For Stricter Gun Laws Spikes After Tucson Rampage

Erik S. Lesser

The number of Americans who favor stricter gun laws has spiked significantly in the wake of the weekend shooting spree that killed six and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in critical condition, reversing a long-running trend of declining support for more stringent gun control, according to a new CBS poll.

In the poll, 47% of respondents said gun laws should be made tougher, while 36% said they should remain unchanged, and just 12% said they should be relaxed. While that means a slim plurality (48%) are opposed to strengthening gun laws, that opposition has dropped 10 points since CBS last polled the question less than one year ago.

In April 2010, CBS pegged total opposition to stricter gun laws at 58%, with 42% saying gun control was fine as is, and 16% saying that laws should be scaled back. And 40% supported tougher gun laws — a number that’s now risen to 47%.TPM Slideshow: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords: On The Job In Arizona

Support for tougher gun laws has been declining for decades. Yesterday, Gallup posted several graphs of their polling data on the issue, each showing a striking downward trend line. In 1990, 78% of Americans favored tougher gun laws, though support continuously slipped over the years to a record low 44% in 2008, according to Gallup. As for handguns specifically, support for banning the commercial sale of those weapons has been halved from around 60% in 1960 to 29% now.

The results of the latest CBS poll are notable because previous highly publicized shootings, with the exception of Columbine, have typically not caused a similar shift in support.

Over at Gallup, Frank Newport and Lydia Saad write:

The general downward trend in support for stricter gun laws has continued even though several high-profile civilian gun crimes, including the 2002 Washington, D.C.,-area sniper attacks, a 2005 shooting at an Indian reservation in Minnesota, a 2007 shooting at a Nebraska shopping mall, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and shooting rampages in 2009 in Alabama and at a Binghamton, N.Y., citizenship center, have occurred over the past decade.

Yet despite the apparent swing in support for stricter gun laws, nearly six in ten Americans think tougher policies would have had “no effect” on preventing the Tucson shooting. In contrast, 36% said tougher laws would have had some effect on preventing the attack, including 18% who said they would have done “a lot.”

The CBS poll was conducted January 9-10–the two days immediately after the shooting–among 673 adults nationwide. It has a margin of error of 4.0%