Growing Number of Americans Unhappy with US Gun Laws
Policy + Politics

Growing Number of Americans Unhappy with US Gun Laws

© Mike Blake / Reuters

President Obama isn’t the only one frustrated by federal gun laws.

Sixty-two percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with U.S. laws or policies on the purchase and use of guns, according to a new Gallup poll, marking the highest percentage of dissatisfaction since the polling organization first began asking the question in 2001.

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Overall, more than twice as many Americans are frustrated with gun laws because they are not tough enough than because they are too tough. According to the poll, 38 percent of Americans believe that gun laws need to be toughened, while 15 percent say they want gun laws watered down or loosened. And in a sign of increased polarization on the gun control issue, these figures are at or near 16-year highs.

Few issues are more contentious in Washington than gun control. And despite a spate of mass shootings, Obama and some congressional Republicans have been thwarted by the National Rifle Association from passing even modest measures to expand background checks on gun buyers.

The usually stoic Obama shed a tear during a Jan. 5 White House ceremony announcing a series of executive actions to try to address gun violence while recalling the murders of 20 first-graders and six staffers three years ago by a lone gunman with an assault rifle at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. "Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad," Obama said as his eyes welled up with tears. "And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day."

Republican presidential candidates and congressional leaders have largely dismissed efforts toughen gun control laws as misguided, saying federal efforts and resources would be better placed in identifying and treating mentally ill people who typically carry out mass shootings.

Related: Clinton Throws Down a Challenge to Obama on Guns

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on Jan. 26 on a mental health reform bill authored by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate Republican Majority Whip. Republicans and Democrats view reforming the nation’s mental health system as one of the few areas of possible compromise during Obama’s final year in office.

But gun control has emerged as a hot topic on the Democratic presidential campaign trail, as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has repeatedly attacked Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for being soft on gun control and unwilling to stand up to the NRA. 

Clinton has unveiled her own ambitious gun control agenda. She wants to close a major loophole in the federal gun law that allows “high volume” sellers of semi-automatic weapons at gun shows and on the Internet to avoid being licensed and having to do background checks of prospective buyers, as is required of retail gun dealers. Her plan would also repeal a law that protects gun manufacturers from being held liable for gun violence. She has sharply criticized Sanders for supporting that measure in 2005, when it came up for a vote in the House.

Clinton also called for closing another loophole that enables a convicted felon to skirt a prohibition on purchasing guns if a gun dealer fails to complete a background check within three days. Dylan Roof -- the 21-year-old white supremacist who shot and killed nine members of an historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last June -- managed to slip through that loophole to purchase the gun he used in the killings.

Related: 19 Unbelievable Facts About Guns in America

According to Gallup, Republicans are the least dissatisfied with gun laws across political party groups, with 54 percent saying they are not happy with the nation’s gun laws, largely because they are too restrictive. Dissatisfaction among independents is only slightly higher at 59 percent, while Democrats are the most dissatisfied, at 75 percent.