Poll: Most think mass shootings preventable

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A CNN poll released this week shows striking evidence of a shift in American attitudes toward mass shootings: Nearly two-thirds of adults now believe that mass shootings can be prevented, the first time since Columbine that a majority of Americans have felt that way.

The survey suggests that the Parkland, Fla., shooting is changing public attitudes about gun violence in a way that other recent killings haven't.

As recently as summer 2015, when nine black parishioners were shot to death by a white supremacist in a Charleston, S.C., church, fewer than 40 percent of Americans said that government or society could do anything to stop the shootings.

Almost five months ago, when 58 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in a shooting in Las Vegas, a plurality of respondents told pollsters that government and society were essentially powerless to stop these incidents.

But today, 64 percent of Americans say that "government and society can take action that will be effective in preventing shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, from happening again." Thirty-two percent say shootings like Parkland "will happen again, regardless of what action is taken by government and society."

But the recent shift in the public's attitudes is primarily concentrated among Republicans. In October, after the Las Vegas shooting, 24 percent of Republicans said that "government and society can take action that will be effective in preventing shootings." This month, after the school shooting in Parkland, in which 17 students and educators were killed and 14 more were injured, Republicans' belief that government and society can stop mass shootings jumped by nearly 30 percentage points, to 52 percent.

The CNN poll shows strong Republican support for at least two specific gun control proposals. Ninety percent said they support a prohibition on gun purchases by convicted felons or people with certain mental health issues. But the question didn't define what mental health issues would qualify for this policy.

More than 60 percent of Republicans also support raising the age limit to 21 for all gun purchases, including rifles. Currently, federal law sets an age limit of 21 for handgun purchases from licensed dealers and a limit of 18 for rifles. Because of that, the alleged Florida school shooter had been able to legally obtain the military-style rifle used in the shooting, despite being 19 years old.

Nearly half of Republicans favor a ban on magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. Over one-third support a ban on all semiautomatic rifles, a measure that would be more restrictive than the 1994 assault weapons ban, which only outlawed certain types of semiautomatic rifles. A limit on the number of guns that individuals could own is even less popular among GOP voters.

The CNN survey also traces how public response to mass shootings has become more polarized over time. From 2000 through at least 2005, Democrats and Republicans were separated by fewer than 10 percentage points on the question of whether government and society can take steps to stop mass shootings.

But after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 other individuals at a 2011 political event, that began to change. The gap between Democrats and Republicans grew to larger than 20 points after that shooting, surpassed 30 points after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut and hit a peak of 44 points after the Las Vegas shooting.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, the gap has narrowed to 27 points.

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