Americans strongly believe it is not possible to entirely prevent mass shootings like the one in Washington, DC on Monday but think help for the mentally ill will do much more than gun control to reduce the number of incidents of this kind. Perhaps in part that's because most do not trust the government to fairly enforce gun control laws.
The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 16% of American Adults think it is possible to completely prevent mass shootings like the one in Washington. Seventy-one percent (71%) say it is not possible to fully stop shootings like this. Thirteen percent (13%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Nineteen percent (19%) think stricter gun control laws will do the most to reduce the number of mass murders like the one this week, but that's down from 27% just after the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut last December. Three times as many (57%) believe more action to treat mental health issues is the most effective way to limit incidents of this nature, up nine points from 48% in the previous survey. Just 13% feel that limits on violent movies and video games would be the most effective move.
Forty-four percent (44%) believe the United States needs stricter gun control laws, but that’s the lowest support for increased gun control since July 2012, just after the mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Just 33% believe it’s at least somewhat likely that stricter gun control laws would have prevented the mass shooting in Washington, DC, with 15% who say it's Very Likely.
Only 26% of Americans trust the government to fairly enforce gun control laws. Sixty-two percent (62%) do not trust the government to administer these laws fairly. Twelve percent (12%) are not sure.
We know beyond a reasonable doubt that IRS agents targeted Americans based on their political beliefs. This is not up for debate. So why should Americans trust the federal government to enforce gun control laws fairly and impartially? Hint: They shouldn’t. But this IRS “scandal” (if that’s the right word), shouldn’t just have conservatives up-in-arms. Yes, the vast majority of groups targeted (roughly 80 percent) on the “political advocacy case” list in 2011 were politically conservative, but not all of them. Some were indeed left-leaning. Which is to say if the government believes it has the authority to harass and punish one group of Americans, how can any group be safe? Hence why Americans are exceedingly skeptical Uncle Sam could enforce gun control laws in a fair and balanced manner.
Meanwhile, Reason’s Nick Gillespie is warning that more gun control laws will not necessarily deter more mass killings:
Any calls for new gun legislation need to be squared with two long-term trends that are directly relevant to the unspeakable crime at the Navy Yard. The first is that mass shootings are not increasing. Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox, co-author of the 2011 book Extreme Killing, defines mass killings as those in which four or more people die and says there is no increase in such events in recent years. As he told Bloomberg, “Our tendency is to go overboard and overreach in terms of trying to increase levels of security … [but] this is not an epidemic.”
In the wake of the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, Mother Jones published a widely cited tally suggesting that mass shootings were in fact trending upward. In an article for The Boston Globe, Fox criticizes Mother Jones for “exclud[ing] cases based on motive, location, and victim-offender relationship.” Despite shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Connecticut, “there has been no upward trend in mass shootings” wrote Fox, who provides an illuminating chart of incidents and casualties covering the years from 1976 to 2010. “What is abundantly clear from the full array of mass shootings, besides the lack of any trend upward or downward, is the largely random variability in the annual counts.”
The second trend is a continuing decline in violent and gun-related crime, including murder. Newly released FBI statistics show that 8,855 murders were committed using firearms in 2012 compared with 9,528 in 2008. During the same five-year period, overall murders dropped from 14,224 in 2008 to 12,765 in 2012. Over the past decade, “serious violent crime” (rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) with weapons declined by 26 percent. Such declines are of a piece with longer-term declines in violent crime rates. In 1993, for instance, the violent crime rate per 100,000 people was 747. In 2003, it was 476, and in 2012 it was 387.
So, there is no evidence that mass shootings are becoming more frequent at the same time gun-related crime is on the decline. Interesting. Perhaps, then, the United States Congress should focus their efforts elsewhere. This might be a good place to start.