Guns Fall From Record High as Top Problem

Guns Fall From Record High as Top Problem

The FINANCIAL -- Americans' mentions of guns or gun control as the most important problem facing the nation fell by over half this month, ticking down to 6% from last month's record high of 13%. Still, gun control continues to be one of the highest-ranked issues named by Americans -- only dissatisfaction with government, immigration and race relations were named more frequently.

Additionally, unifying the country and the economy were named as the most important problem by 5% of Americans, according to Gallup.

These results come from an April 2-11 poll, nearly two months after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

In the immediate aftermath of this event, public opinion regarding gun control shifted significantly. A March 2-11 Gallup poll found Americans' support for gun control laws rising to the highest levels since 1993. Meanwhile, the same Gallup poll found a record percentage of Americans mentioning guns as the country's top problem.

But it remains to be seen how long-lasting these changes in Americans' attitudes will prove to be. Past shootings, such as the 2012 incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School, have changed at least some aspect of public opinion related to gun control, but these effects have tended to be temporary.

Given this context, the 7-percentage-point drop in the percentage of Americans mentioning guns as the country's top problem this month might be a signal that concerns over guns in the U.S. are beginning to be fade. But this likely overstates the importance of the indicator's decline. Mentions of gun control as the country's top problem remain elevated by historical standards. Since 2001, gun control has been mentioned on average by 1% of Americans as the country's top problem.

The "most important problem" indicator has not typically behaved in a predictable way after a mass shooting, unlike Gallup questions specifically concerning guns. For instance, support for stricter gun laws often rises after a high-profile shooting and then quickly falls. In the month after the June 2016 Orlando shooting, mentions of gun control as the most important problem edged up four points, only to fall back to the original level over the next two months.

In the month after the December 2012 Sandy Hook incident, mentions of guns as the country's top problem rose from 0% to 4%. Concerns stayed at this level over the next few months as Congress debated new gun-control legislation; in April, 7% of Americans named guns as the top problem facing the U.S. That same month, a piece of gun control legislation failed a key vote in the U.S., bringing the legislative effort to a close. After this, mentions of guns fell close to 0%.

Concern about guns fell among both Republicans and Democrats this month and at roughly equal levels, suggesting the issue is losing some of its potency with both major parties. Among Republicans, mentions of gun control fell six points this month to 4%; among Democrats, the figure fell eight points to 8%.

Satisfaction With Direction of U.S. Remains Below Recent High

Fewer than three-in-ten Americans (29%) said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S., essentially unchanged from last month. Satisfaction reached a one-year high of 36% in early February, after Donald Trump's State of the Union speech in which he touted the nation's economic progress.

Bottom Line

Concern about guns declined notably in April, but the issue has not completely fallen to the back of Americans' minds. Guns remain one of the most commonly named problems facing the country for the second month in a row, competing against entrenched problems such as dissatisfaction with government and immigration. In that sense, it is still possible Parkland will ultimately represent a turning point in the gun debate in the U.S.

But the fact that mentions of guns dropped among both Republicans and Democrats, and at nearly equal measures, could pose challenges for the continued viability of this topic as a national issue.