Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Gun control support rises but divide remains over what to do

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
updated 2:58 PM EST, Mon January 28, 2013
  • Three new national polls indicate a majority of Americans support most gun control measures
  • Polls divided by political party, gender, age, race and education over some proposals
  • Pew Survey: 85% of the public backs background checks on private gun sales and at shows
  • ABC/Wash Post poll: 44% of people who own at least one gun less supportive of proposals

Can there be a solution to America's gun problems? Anderson Cooper looks at both sides of the debate in "Guns Under Fire: an AC360ยบ Town Hall Special" Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.

Washington (CNN) -- As President Barack Obama gets ready on Wednesday to spell out White House proposals to curb gun violence, three new national polls indicate a majority of Americans support most gun control measures.

But they are divided by political party, gender, age, race and education over some of the proposals.

The polls released this week came one month after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The tragedy seemed to be make an impact.

By a 51%-45% margin, Americans questioned in a new Pew Research Center poll say it's more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun rights. An equal 51% questioned in a new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection survey say controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting the right of Americans to own firearms.

And by a 52%-35% margin, a new ABC News/Washington Post survey indicates the public says it is more likely to support some forms of gun control after last month's massacre.

Support for gun control rose after last summer's mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, theater and the January 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Arizona but not at the same rate as after the Newtown tragedy.

Obama to announce gun control plans Wednesday

But the country is still divided on the issue.

"Support for gun control is rising modestly since last month's shootings, but still largely divides the country close to 50-50," CNN Senior Political Analyst and National Journal Group's Editorial Director Ron Brownstein said.

And that split follows the same track demographically as the split in last November's presidential election.

"There is strong support for action on guns inside the modern Democratic coalition of minorities, millenials and college educated white women and strong opposition among blue-collar and rural white voters," Brownstein added. "At the national level that means Democrats were wrong to conclude this issue was a loser after Vice President Al Gore was defeated in the 2000 election. Democrats were paralyzed by the fear of losing voters they had largely already lost and failing to respond to the voters who actually vote for them."

The divide is also apparent when it comes to specific proposals to limit gun violence that are being considered by the president.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama would spell out his proposals on gun-control legislation and executive actions on Wednesday.

NRA membership up 250K in last month

Kelly: Armed school guards won't work
Walsh on gun permits, background checks
Why Rob Lowe owns 3 guns
Adviser: GOP must show gun control plan
Thompson: Gun control should be priority

According to the Pew survey, 85% of the public backs making private gun sales and purchases at gun shows subject to background checks, with comparable support across party lines. It's a similar story in an ABC News/Washington Post poll, where nearly nine in 10 favor such background checks, with broad backing from Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.

The Pew poll indicates that eight in 10 favor laws to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns, again with bipartisan support. And a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection survey finds nearly six in 10 backing the banning of bullets that explode or penetrate bulletproof vests, with majority support across party lines.

But on other proposals where there is overall majority support, such as creating a federal database to track gun sales, bans on assault style weapons, high capacity ammunition clips, and online ammunition sales, the polls indicate wide differences of opinions between Democrats and Republicans.

The president says when it comes to gun violence, he's not concerned about politics.

"My starting point is not to worry about the politics but to focus on what makes sense and what works," Obama said at a Monday news conference.

But the polls indicate that the divides on the issue are not just Democrat vs. Republican.

New York to pass nation's first gun control bill since Newtown shooting

The National Journal poll indicates that those ages 18-29 are most supportive of stricter gun control, and that minorities overwhelmingly favor prioritizing gun control over gun owners rights, with 52% of white respondents saying protecting gun ownership is most important.

The Pew survey indicates that men are divided on this question, while a solid majority of women say it's more important to control gun ownership. There's also a sizable gender gap over a ban on semi-automatic weapons, with two-thirds of women supporting such a move and men divided.

According to the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 44% say there is at least one gun in their home, and that those people are less supportive of a number of the anti-gun violence measures being proposed.

The powerful National Rifle Association is fiercely opposed to any ban on assault-style weapons. The ABC News/Washington Post poll indicates 36% of the public has favorable views of the group's leaders, with 44% saying they have an unfavorable view, and one in five saying they have no opinion on the NRA's leaders.

Thirty-eight percent say the NRA has "too much influence," with 24% feeling it has "too little" influence, and three in ten saying the organization has the right amount of sway.

Last month the NRA proposed placing armed security guards or police in the nation's schools. Fifty-five percent of those questioned in the ABC News/Washington Post survey and nearly two-thirds of those questioned in the Pew poll support that suggestion.

But the Pew survey highlights an educational divide on the question. Fewer than half of college graduates support a proposal to put armed guards or police in more schools, while three-quarters of those with no more than a high school education favor the idea.

Biden spoke with Newtown families, son says

Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones, the president and acting CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, discuss the lethal mix of domestic violence and guns.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Gun rights and gun control advocates largely agree there should be restrictions on mentally ill people obtaining firearms. The case of Myron Fletcher illustrates how difficult it is to put that into practice.
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a wide-ranging gun bill into law Wednesday that has critics howling and proponents applauding.
updated 6:52 AM EDT, Thu June 13, 2013
Six months after a gunman burst into a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school and slaughtered 20 children and killed six others, promises of stricter national gun control laws remain largely unfulfilled.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
Next time there's a mass shooting, don't jump to blame the National Rifle Association and lax gun laws. Look first at the shooter and the mental health services he did or didn't get, and the commitment laws in the state where the shooting took place.
updated 7:20 AM EDT, Sat June 8, 2013
The sign at the door of the Colt factory displays a gun with a slash through it: "No loaded or unauthorized firearms beyond this point." Understandable for workers at a plant, but also a bit ironic, considering one of the largest arsenals in America lies just beyond.
updated 7:18 AM EDT, Sat June 8, 2013
Much attention has been paid to the defeat in Congress of proposals to ban assault weapons and expand background checks for firearm purchases.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Sat June 29, 2013
Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man" gives CNN viewers an inside and in-depth look at the issue of firearms -- as viewed from behind the counter of a gun store. Here are five things to know about the debate.
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
The Supreme Court continued its recent hands-off approach on gun control, refusing to accept a challenge to New Jersey's restrictions on carrying weapons in public.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
The Senate defeated a compromise plan to expand background checks on firearms sales as well as a proposal to ban some semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault weapons.
updated 8:03 PM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
As Congress grapples with major gun control legislation proposals, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers and children write about the people they loved and lost to gun violence and how it changed their lives.
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
Hear from both sides of the gun debate as opinions clash.
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed May 1, 2013
It was a bit awkward the first time Kate Daggett asked the question.
updated 9:41 AM EDT, Wed April 10, 2013
Many Americans and lawmakers are in favor of continuing or expanding background checks on gun purchases, but few understand how the checks work.
updated 3:35 PM EDT, Thu April 4, 2013
Still stinging from the shooting deaths at Sandy Hook, Connecticut lawmakers approved what advocacy groups call the strongest and most comprehensive gun legislation in the nation.
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Fri March 29, 2013
It took fewer than five minutes for Adam Lanza to squeeze off 154 rounds, upending life in Newtown, Connecticut, and triggering a renewed national debate over gun control.
Who should get them? Join the gun control debate and share your perspective on CNN iReport.
updated 11:24 AM EDT, Tue April 2, 2013
Before having children, she was a firm believer that guns were dangerous. Now this mother of three has a different perspective.
updated 6:54 PM EDT, Tue March 19, 2013
In the biggest fight over firearms since December's massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, gun-control advocates are poised to notch a victory in an unlikely place.
A former drug addict turned anti-violence crusader, and a man who lost his father in a temple shooting. These are just two of many in the conversation.
updated 1:22 PM EST, Fri February 1, 2013
At a town hall that brought all sides of the gun debate together, was there a consensus? Sort of.
updated 10:51 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
The federal background check system for gun buyers didn't stop a mentally ill man from buying a gun, which he used to kill his mother.
updated 7:37 PM EST, Thu January 31, 2013
In disputes over the future of gun laws, people espousing different positions often literally don't understand each other.