By Chris Kahn
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most Americans want tougher gun laws but have little confidence their lawmakers will take action, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday ahead of the one-year anniversary of the country's deadliest high school shooting.
The poll of more than 6,800 adults reflects widespread frustration with state and federal lawmakers after decades of mass shootings in the United States. The Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and staff.
According to the poll, 69 percent of Americans, including 85 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of Republicans, want strong or moderate restrictions placed on firearms. To stop gun violence, 55 percent said they wanted policies that make it tougher to own guns, while 10 percent said making firearm ownership easier would be better.
The poll shows public support for strong firearms restrictions dipped slightly from a year ago, when the media was closely following the Parkland shooting, but overall support for gun restrictions has risen since the poll started asking about gun control in 2012.
Among those who want tougher gun laws now, only 14 percent said they were “very confident” their representatives understood their views on firearms, and just 8 percent felt “very confident” their elected representatives would do anything about it.
Taletha Whitley, 41, of Clayton, North Carolina, said lawmakers were too dependent on campaign contributions from gun rights groups to care about public opinion.
“It would take money out of their pockets” to write gun control laws, said Whitley, a Democrat who works in customer service for a local grocery chain. “That’s why they haven’t done anything about all of these mass shootings. It’s about the dollars.”
(For a graphic on the poll, see: https://tmsnrt.rs/2tbgwT1)
The findings underscore the challenges for gun safety advocates who, even after a banner legislative and electoral year in 2018, continue to push against the perception that the gun lobby commands the debate.
Gun control laws have been passed in 20 states since the Parkland shooting, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Gun control advocates also outspent the National Rifle Association during last year's congressional elections, and 150 of the 196 candidates Everytown endorsed won their races for state and federal offices.
Shannon Watts, who founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America after the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, said it has taken years to build a community of activists capable of taking on the NRA. After an effort to overhaul gun laws failed in 2013, Watts continued to recruit volunteers and aligned her organization with Everytown to build a network that now has a chapter in every state.
“You cannot underestimate the significance of hundreds of thousands of volunteers telling their lawmaker you have to do the right thing,” Watts said. “We tell them that when you do we’ll have your back, and when you don’t we'll have your job.”
Watts and others are taking advantage of a drop in activity among gun rights advocates, who have been operating with less urgency now that they have an ally in the White House.
The NRA concedes that fundraising has fallen since Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in November 2016 but said gun control groups were overplaying their hand with some of their agenda.
“There's less to do because we've been so successful over the years," NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said. “We continue to defeat gun control legislation across the country while passing gun rights legislation.”
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR GUN CONTROL
The poll found rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans largely agree on a variety of gun-control measures, including a ban on internet sales of ammunition, stopping people with a history of mental illness from buying guns, placing armed guards at schools and expanding background checks at gun shows.
Among parents with school-age children, 65 percent said they were somewhat or very worried about gun violence in schools, and a majority of those parents were supportive of efforts intended to beef up school security.
Sixty-one percent of parents said they favored publicly funding firearms training for teachers and school personnel, and 54 percent said they approved of allowing school personnel to carry guns.
Irfan Rydhan, 44, of San Jose, California, favors strong firearms restrictions but said he did not seriously think about gun control until earlier this year when he enrolled his 6-year-old in kindergarten.
“Obviously there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with dropping your kid off at public school, and there’s no one really watching him all the time,” said Rydhan, a poll respondent. “It makes you want to be more proactive about his safety.”
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English between Jan. 11 and Jan. 28 throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 6,813 adults, including 2,701 who identified as Democrats and 2,359 who identified as Republicans. It has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
(Reporting by Chris Kahn; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)