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CBS News poll: Can mass shootings be prevented, and if so, how?

CBS News logo CBS News 6/5/2022 Anthony Salvanto, Fred Backus
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Most Americans continue to favor stricter gun laws, but feel that getting them passed is stymied by big money and inaction by politicians. And Americans say the nation's gun debate — no matter where they stand on it — is influenced more by partisanship than public safety. Polling shows they're partly right. 

There is bipartisan support for measures that are applied to people — such as background checks and a federal "red flag" law, which most Americans think could do a lot to help prevent mass shootings. But there are more partisan differences over what to do about the guns themselves.

Democrats look for more gun restrictions — including banning AR-15s — and fewer people having guns in general, and also support background checks and more mental health services. But Republicans tend to oppose AR-15 bans and feel that allowing more people to carry guns and more armed security would stop mass shootings. They think that these measures, along with better mental health screening, would be most effective in preventing mass shootings.

Americans overall overwhelmingly believe mass shootings can be prevented, if we try. But Republicans, in particular, are less likely to think so — four in 10 Republicans say mass shootings are, unfortunately, something we have to accept in a free society.

In all, most don't expect Congress to pass any significant changes to gun policy in the coming months. 

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In the chart below, we see similarly large support across parties for background checks, slightly less but still most for a federal red flag law, and then, we see Republicans very different from independents and Democrats on banning AR-15s.

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Why does the U.S. have so many mass shootings?

The vast majority of Americans think we could prevent mass shootings if we really tried, although Republicans are far less likely to hold that view.

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We asked people why they think there are more mass shootings in the U.S. than in many other countries, and more availability of guns is the top answer among Americans overall. Here again, we see partisan divides with only about a quarter of Republicans citing guns as a reason. More people with mental health issues in the U.S. is their top answer, followed by the influence of violent movies and video games.

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Democrats see gun-related items, such as more background checks and banning semi-automatic weapons, as policies that would do "a lot" to help prevent mass shootings. Republicans think better mental health treatment, armed security and more religion in people's lives would be more effective.

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So, what amount of gun ownership makes America safer? That, too, breaks along partisan lines. 

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Seventy-two percent of Democrats think the U.S. would be safer if fewer people — or if no one — had guns. By contrast nearly half of Republicans — 46% — think the U.S. would be safer if more people — or everyone — had guns.

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Other gun policy measures

One measure that's being debated is raising the age requirement for purchasing semi-automatic weapons. A majority of Americans think the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic weapon like an AR-15 should be at least 21, including most Republicans. 

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Support for stricter laws covering the sale of guns has inched up some. It's a pattern we've seen in CBS News polling before, where support for more strict gun laws sometimes has gone up after a mass shooting, but has ticked back down afterward over time.  

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In general, 76% of Americans say things in the country are going badly, a number that has continued to rise and now matches its highs from the early months of the pandemic in 2020. 

This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,021 U.S. adult residents interviewed between June 1-3, 2022. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey and Current Population Survey, as well as to 2020 presidential vote. The margin of error is ±2.6 points. 

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