To best learn from Tucson, we should examine not just the shooting's cause, but how to prevent more shootings in the future. This Gallup poll reveals the complexity of voters' views, but also the consistency with which stricter gun laws are central to the discussion of violence. It also confirms what my firm found in this bipartisan poll on behalf of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, released last week (and done jointly with Republican firm American Viewpoint).
Using their own words, Americans cite stricter gun laws as the best way to prevent more mass shootings. Gallup asked an open-ended question about what could be done to "prevent mass shootings from occurring in the United States." Not only was the number one response gun-related ("stricter gun laws"), but almost half (42%) responded in some way about stricter gun laws. Note this does not include "teaching children about proper use of guns" or "allowing people to carry guns for their own protection."
And whether thinking about Tucson specifically, or mass shootings generally, Gallup found Americans blame "easy access to guns" about as much as a mental health system failure. Our poll found something very similar, with heated political rhetoric receiving far less blame.
Gallup also notes that few feel stricter gun laws would have prevented the actual tragedy at Tucson, or, at that time, Virginia Tech. Perhaps, they hypothesize, this is "because of the intense focus in the news media on the accused perpetrator in each tragedy." Unfortunately this one data point pervaded much of the recent coverage.
This post-Tucson poll reporting--wrongly, in my view--suggested that despite Tucson, Americans continue to oppose stricter gun laws. In fact, as I wrote last week, for years overwhelming majorities have supported many of the stricter gun laws actually under discussion. And unaided, Americans decisively identify stricter gun laws as the best way to prevent future tragedies. One way to learn from Tucson is to truly listen to public opinion.