Crosses stand along the roadside memorial set up for victims of the Colorado… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)
WASHINGTON-- For anyone wondering why the mass shooting at the theater showing the latest Batman film didn’t move the needle on gun control, here’s another data point: A new national poll finds that public opinion on the issue remains unchanged since the July 20 massacre, which killed a dozen people and wounded 58 others.
As on other political questions, the nation remains very evenly divided, with 47% saying it’s more important to control gun ownership and 46% putting a higher priority on guarding the right of Americans to own them. The numbers are from a new Pew Research Center opinion survey completed over the weekend and released Monday.
Nothing is happening on gun control in Washington, where Democrats regard it as a counterproductive issue, despite strong support from their base and a split among independent voters. President Obama has spoken since the Aurora, Colo., massacre about the need to renew federal restrictions on the ownership of assault weapons, but he’s not expected to act on the issue before the election.
Republicans remain adamantly opposed to any new gun laws.
The latest poll findings are essentially the same as those from an earlier Pew survey, in April of this year, which found that 49% of U.S. adults place a higher priority on gun rights, while 45% want more weight given to gun control.
“There has been no significant change in public views on the issue of control and gun rights,” said Pew’s analysis of the post-Aurora climate.
The same pattern was seen after other highly publicized shooting incidents over the last five years, which also had little effect on public attitudes toward guns -- the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, which left 32 dead and 17 wounded, and the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson that killed six and wounded 13 in January of last year.
According to the new poll, Americans were more likely to view the Aurora shooting as the isolated act of a troubled individual than was the case in those earlier incidents. In 2007, the public was evenly split on whether the Virginia Tech shootings reflected broader problems in American society.
But two in three Americans (67%) put the latest mass shooting into the category of an isolated event by a troubled individual. By comparison, 58% of those questioned shortly after the Tucson shooting and 47% after the Virginia Tech killings saw those as isolated events, rather than evidence of broader social problems.
Public opinion on gun control has remained divided since 2009, a change from an earlier period dating back decades, when controlling gun ownership was given a much higher priority.
The Pew poll noted that Americans remain polarized along party lines on the issue, with 71% of Republicans putting a higher priority on gun rights and 72% of Democrats favoring gun control.
Independent voters split almost evenly, with 50% favoring gun rights and 43% saying they consider gun rights more important.
Racial and gender divides on the issue also persist, with a majority of whites and men in favor of protecting gun rights. Blacks, by an overwhelming margin, want to put a greater emphasis on gun control, as do a clear majority of women, according to the new poll.
On Monday, the suspect in the Colorado shooting,James E. Holmes, was formally charged with 142 criminal counts, including 24 of first-degree murder, by authorities in Arapahoe County. A preliminary hearing in the case was set for Nov. 13, one week after the 2012 presidential election.
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