Americans blame racism, gun laws for mass shootings; half add Trump
WASHINGTON – Americans overwhelmingly blame the mental health system, racism and white nationalism, and loose gun laws for a series of mass shootings that have shaken communities across the country.
A USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll taken Monday and Tuesday, in the wake of deadly violence in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shows bipartisan agreement on some of the factors people hold responsible for incidents of gun violence. It is an issue on their minds; many say fear of mass shootings has changed the way they live their daily lives.
Though there are partisan divisions – including over the role President Donald Trump and his rhetoric have played in the violence – there is broad agreement on steps Congress should take.
A majority of those surveyed, including 59% of Republicans, say the U.S. Senate should pass two measures approved this year by the House of Representatives that would tighten background checks on gun purchasers. Overall, two-thirds, 67%, support passage of the bills. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring them up for consideration.
More than half of those surveyed say McConnell should cancel the Senate’s August recess to hold a vote.
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The poll illustrates some of the political undercurrents that have complicated and often paralyzed proposals for a government response to mass shootings that have killed people going about their regular routines – shopping for back-to-school supplies, enjoying a Saturday night out on the town, worshiping in a synagogue.
Republicans are more likely to say violent video games play a role, for instance – 60% compared with 47% of Democrats. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to blame gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association – 72% versus 37%.
Nearly three of four Democrats, 74%, say some of the responsibility is on the president, who has been criticized for tweets condemned as racist and provocative rhetoric aimed at Mexicans, Muslims, blacks and others. That compares with 23% of Republicans – although the fact that nearly one in four of his fellow Republicans place some blame on Trump is notable.
A 51% majority of Republicans join an overwhelming 83% of Democrats in blaming loose gun laws.
More than two-thirds of Americans, 69%, say racism and white nationalism hold some responsibility for the mass shootings. That includes 84% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed blame the mental health system, the factor that tops the list.
“Americans across the board are horrified by these mass shootings and looking for stronger gun violence measures,” says Cliff Young, president of Ipsos Public Affairs. “Unfortunately, there is an absolute inability to come to consensus on the issue, because the perceived symptoms and causes of these shootings are seen through partisan lenses.”
Most Democrats blame congressional Republicans. Most Republicans blame congressional Democrats.
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The online poll of 1,004 adults has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Americans are paying attention.
More than nine in 10 say they are familiar with or have heard about the gun violence over the past week in El Paso and Dayton. Even so, eight in 10 say they have felt mostly or very safe in public spaces over the past few weeks; 15% have felt mostly or very unsafe.
Nearly half of those surveyed say the threat of mass shootings in recent years has affected their lives. About one in five, 21%, say they have skipped public events where a lot of people will gather. Nearly as many, 18%, say they have avoided shopping in crowded places. One in four, 25%, have talked with family members about what to do if a shooting happened in a place where they were.
A handful, 7%, have contacted public officials to press for new laws.
Across party lines, Americans agree that gun laws should be stricter, although the survey didn’t explore the details of that debate. By more than 6-1, those surveyed support stricter gun laws, not looser ones. The margin was wide even among Republicans, though the GOP generally has opposed new gun laws. By 3-1, 54%-18%, Republicans say gun laws should be tightened. Democrats, by a sweeping 87%-7%, agree.
That doesn’t reflect a significant shift in public sentiment after the latest mass shootings. The results were similar to those found in Ipsos polls taken in February 2018 and October 2017. Since those surveys, the federal government hasn’t enacted stricter gun laws.