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Bill Day, FloridaPolitics.com

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that surveys show support for stronger gun control is at its lowest point in years, given the surge in gun purchases during the coronavirus pandemic.

A Gallup poll released in November, before the recent shooting at a Michigan high school, showed a majority of American adults still support stronger gun restrictions. But the 52 percent taking that position was the poll’s lowest reading since 2014.

The survey said 35 percent believe laws covering the sale of firearms should be kept as they are now, and 11 percent want regulations eased.

A new Quinnipiac University poll showed 49 percent oppose stricter gun laws, while 45 percent support them. That’s the first time since December 2015 that fewer than 50 percent of voters supported tougher laws.

The erosion in support for tougher gun regulations has been seen even in heavily Democratic California, which has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws.

In July, 56 percent of California voters said they believe stronger laws restricting the sale and possession of guns help make their communities safer, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

That number was down from 60 percent three years ago.

The polls come in the wake of a nationwide increase in shootings and murders during the coronavirus pandemic. Surveys have reflected growing public concern as homicides and other violent crimes have increased, even though violent crime rates remain historically low.

Analysts say those factors, along with economic uncertainty triggered by the pandemic and fear of civil unrest, drove a big increase in gun purchases over the past two years. Also, it’s not unusual for gun sales to rise in an election year that has the prospect of an administration favoring gun control coming to power.

Americans purchased a record 22.8 million guns last year, up 64 percent from 2019, according to Forbes. As of September, 13.4 million guns had been purchased this year, a drop from the nearly 15 million sold at this point in 2020, but well above pre-2020 levels, Forbes said, citing figures from Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for retailers, ranges and manufacturers, conducted a survey of gun shops that estimated 40 percent of purchases from January through April 2020 were by first-time gun buyers.

It’s hard to say whether all this portends diminished support for stronger gun control in the long run or if the shooting that killed four students and injured six others and a teacher at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit will change public opinion. Fifteen-year-old sophomore Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult in the shooting.

Gallup said the intensity of backing for stricter gun laws has been cyclical.

The polling company said it has been tracking the public’s views on gun control since 1990, when the nation’s crime rate was high and a record 78 percent of Americans supported stronger laws for gun sales.

“Since then, calls for tougher gun control have generally spiked in the wake of prominent mass shootings and faded as the memory of each receded,” according to a Gallup overview of the poll.

Following the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people and injured 17 others, support for stricter gun control increased to 67 percent, the highest it had been since 1993, according to Gallup.

Support remained high until the second half of last year, when it began to drop. The divide between Democrats and Republicans on gun control remains wide. The difference this year was independents.

“The decline in support for stricter gun laws last year was mostly due to a 14-point drop among Republicans, to 22 percent — the group’s lowest point on record,” according to Gallup. “This year’s decrease is driven by a 15-point plunge among independents. For their part, Democrats’ desire for more restrictive gun laws ticked up to 91 percent.”

It’s unclear where efforts to reduce gun violence go from here.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives earlier this year passed two bills with several Republican votes that would expand and strengthen background checks for gun sales. Neither bill is expected to get out of the Senate, where Democrats have a bare majority but not enough votes to overcome a potential Republican filibuster blocking the bills.

Big majorities of voters across the political spectrum supported background checks, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll in March. But the survey showed voters were split over one of the bills closing a loophole that allows a gun to be purchased if the federal background check is not completed within three days.

At the moment, Republicans appear to be poised to take control of one or both houses of Congress in next year’s election, making passage of major gun control laws even less likely.

Meanwhile, battles over gun laws will continue to be waged in court, which has particular resonance locally. U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego has issued high-profile rulings overturning California gun restrictions, including a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 bullets and a ban on assault weapons.

Benitez’s ruling on large-capacity magazines was reversed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also issued a stay keeping his assault-weapons ruling from taking effect pending an appeal.

These cases may well end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not ruled on a major gun-law case in more than a decade. But the court’s new 6-3 conservative majority is being closely watched as it deliberates over a New York case involving the right to carry a handgun outside the home.

Whatever the fate of gun laws politically and legally, it’s clear other solutions are needed. Even California has had its mass shootings, such as those in 2015 at a nonprofit center in San Bernardino, where 14 people were killed, and in 2018 at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, where 13 people were killed, including the shooter and a police officer.

Guns simply aren’t going to disappear from the American landscape and will likely remain in large numbers as they have for some time. An outright ban and total confiscation are never going to happen.

How to fix the root causes of gun violence remains a mystery. Increasingly, efforts are being made to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them before they do harm, but it’s difficult. More of that needs to happen, but that’s not the complete answer either.

A lot remains to be learned about what happened leading up to the shooting at Oxford High School.

Teachers and other school officials saw red flags with Ethan Crumbley and took action. But the school ultimately let him return to class after his parents refused to take him out of school that day as recommended. The parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the shooting.

And here we are.

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