Americans back tougher gun laws, but GOP support plummets even after Atlanta, Boulder shootings, exclusive poll finds

Susan Page, USA TODAY
·3 min read

Two-thirds of Americans back tougher gun laws, a USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll finds, but Republican support has fallen significantly as the issue takes on a stronger partisan cast than it did a few years ago.

In the poll, taken in the wake of two mass shootings in the span of a week, 65% overall say gun laws should be stricter – a sizable majority but one that has fallen by 7 percentage points from a USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll taken in August 2019.

The 54% support among Republicans two years ago has plummeted to 35%. Democratic support has stayed about the same, now at 90%.

A woman consoles a King Soopers pharmacy technician after a shooting at the grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.
A woman consoles a King Soopers pharmacy technician after a shooting at the grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.

"This is much more about a shift in the Republican base, and their leadership, than about the issue itself," Ipsos President Cliff Young says. "In these highly tribalized times, cues from leadership become especially important in how the public forms their stance around issues. The partisan cuing around gun reforms has changed among Republican leadership, and the Republican base has followed suit."

The online poll of 1,005 adults, taken Tuesday and Wednesday, has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 points.

The double-digit decline in GOP support eases the political pressure on Republican officials to endorse new gun laws. The largest group of the party's voters, a 44% plurality, say current gun laws are "about right."

The findings underscore the rocky terrain ahead for two measures passed this month by the Democratic-controlled House to tighten background checks of gun buyers and to give the FBI more time to vet them. Even advocates acknowledge that prevailing in the evenly divided Senate – where 60 votes would be needed to break a filibuster and bring the proposals to a vote – seems a distant prospect.

That said, 61% of Americans say they want the Senate to pass the House bills, including Democrats by a wide margin. A bipartisan majority backed the legislation in 2019, but now Republicans are evenly split.

The survey was taken after a mass shooting last week killed eight people at three spas in the Atlanta area. Monday, another shooting killed 10 people, including a police officer, at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.

More: Boulder grocery store rampage follows spike in mass shootings during 2020

In Washington, what has followed is familiar: Democrats demand tougher gun laws, and Republicans argue they would do little to stem the bloodshed. Opponents of stricter regulations have gone on high alert. "They want to TAKE AWAY YOUR GUNS," the Second Amendment Foundation warned in a fundraising email sent Tuesday morning, less than 18 hours after the Boulder shooting.

Even President Joe Biden, who has long advocated tougher gun laws, struck a note of caution after he declared Tuesday in somber remarks, "We have to act." When a reporter asked if he had the political capital to do that, he replied, "I hope so" and raised his hand, his fingers crossed. He added, "I don't know."

The findings show some notable shifts since a similar USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll in August 2019, after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll in 2019: Who's to blame for mass shootings? On that, some bipartisan agreement

Now 57% overall say loose gun laws bear at least some responsibility for mass shootings in the USA. That's down 10 points from 2019. Among Republicans, the 51% majority who blamed loose gun laws in 2019 has been cut almost in half, to 27%. The views of Democrats, at 85%, haven't significantly changed.

Republicans are much less likely to hold gun manufacturers and the NRA responsible, down 17 points to 20%. In contrast, three of four Democrats say gun manufacturers and the NRA are responsible. Overall, 73% place blame on the nation's mental health system.

A string of mass shootings have left their imprint on Americans' daily lives. Nearly one in four say they have felt unsafe in public spaces in the past few weeks, 8 points higher than two years ago.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Poll: Views on gun laws after Atlanta, Boulder show even deeper divide