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62% Don't Trust Government to Fairly Enforce Gun Control Laws

Thursday, September 19, 2013

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.

This level of distrust has hurt legislative efforts to impose stricter background checks on gun purchasers despite popular support for such measures. Earlier this year, 44% of voters said it is at least somewhat likely that the government will try to confiscate all privately owned guns over the next generation or so, with 20% who think it is Very Likely.

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The national survey of 1,000 Adults was conducted on September 17-18, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Fieldwork for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC . See methodology.

In a survey just prior to the latest mass shooting incident, 48% of Americans said there are not enough police officers in the United States, but nearly as many (46%) felt America would be less safe if only government officials such as the police and military personnel were allowed to have guns.

Democrats continue to express more trust in the government than others do. Eighty-one percent (81%) of Republicans and 65% of adults not affiliated with either of the major political parties do not trust the government to fairly enforce gun control laws. Democrats are evenly divided on the question.

Fifty percent (50%) of Democrats agree with 64% of Republicans and 57% of unaffiliated Americans that more action to treat mental health issues is the better way to reduce the number of mass shootings. But 33% of those in President Obama's party think stricter gun control would be more effective, a view shared by just seven percent (7%) of Republicans and 15% of unaffiliateds. 

However, Democrats believe nearly as strongly as the others that it is not possible to fully prevent mass shooting incidents like the one in Washington.

A plurality (49%) of those who think the nation needs stricter gun control laws believe the government can be trusted to fairly enforce those laws. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of Americans opposed to more gun control don't trust the government.

But even Americans who favor more gun control have slightly more confidence in increased mental health care as the better way to prevent future mass shootings. Sixty-five percent (65%) of these adults also agree that it is not possible to completely prevent mass shootings.

Support among voters for requiring a strict background check to buy a gun remains high, but 51% believe these checks will not reduce the level of violent crime in America.

In January of this year, 81% of Americans said the United States needs to take more action to identify and treat mental health issues. Seventy-seven percent (77%) said medical professionals should be required by law to notify police about any mentally ill person they consider to be potentially violent. 

Seventy-four percent (74%) believe they have a constitutional right to own a gun. Sixty-five percent (65%) think the purpose of the Second Amendment is to make sure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters now consider the federal government a threat to individual rights rather than a protector of those rights.

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