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How Americans actually feel about gun rights versus restrictions

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has the political world focused once again on guns. Few issues draw more passion in politics. So we're going to look more closely now at how Americans actually feel about gun rights versus gun restrictions. Joining us is NPR political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there.

PFEIFFER: Broadly speaking, in this country, where does more support land on the gun issue for pro restrictions or for pro rights?

MONTANARO: Well, generally, there's a slim majority who are in favor of stricter gun laws. You know, Gallup tracks this question and found 52% in favor of stricter laws. But that's down 15 points from right after the Parkland, Fla., shooting in 2018. That was the highest level of support back then for restrictions since 1993, when violent crime across the country had spiked. The drop is, though, due to Republicans and independents, who've fallen back. Democrats, on the other hand, have increased in their percentage of wanting restrictions since then. So the partisan gap on this issue has only widened.

PFEIFFER: And, Domenico, this is a pattern we've seen - that in the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, there's increased support for restrictions, but that fades over time.

MONTANARO: Yeah, definitely. And that's part of a strategy for gun rights groups like the NRA. You repeatedly hear their leaders say in moments like these, take a pause. Don't make any decisions now. And they do that as a tactic. They know that the further away from an event like Columbine or Sandy Hook or Parkland or Uvalde - that there's there's less pressure on lawmakers to act. A couple of other factors to look at here as well - when a Democrat is in the White House, gun rights groups raise more money, and Republicans become less likely to support any restrictions because of a drummed-up fear that Democrats are going to go after their guns.

And we should note that surveys show that roughly 4 in 10 U.S. households have guns in them. Also, we have seen a precipitous decline in support for handgun bans, and it's hard to separate that from the Supreme Court's permissibility when it comes to guns, notably starting with the Heller decision in 2008 that struck down D.C.'s gun - handgun ban and for the first time said that the Constitution guarantees the right of an individual to have a handgun in their home.

PFEIFFER: What happens when polling gets into specific questions like where Americans stand on stricter background checks and assault weapon bans?

MONTANARO: Well, take expanded background checks to start with. Routinely, polling shows about 9 in 10 Americans are in favor of them. I was struck this week when I saw Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr in the NBA referencing that when he went viral this week for his impassioned plea on guns after the Uvalde shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE KERR: Ninety percent of us - we are being held hostage by 50 senators in Washington who refuse to even put it to a vote, despite what we, the American people, want. They won't vote on it because they want to hold onto their own power. It's pathetic. I've had enough.

MONTANARO: You know, he's largely right on the numbers, and no other issue gets that level of support. But there's not enough support from Republican lawmakers for expanded background checks. President Biden and other Democrats believe the best way to stop mass shootings is to ban the kinds of weapons that can get lots of shots off in a short amount of time, a ban on assault-style weapons like the Uvalde gunman used. You know, this country did have a ban on those in place for 10 years as well as a ban on high-capacity magazines. When those were lifted, mass shootings rose dramatically. An assault weapons ban also has majority support but not necessarily among Republicans. And that's a key factor here for why these restrictions have not been put back into law at a federal level.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.