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Americans say ‘no gun under 21’

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No gun under 21 — it’s something that 84 percent of America supports. In a country with more guns per person than any other country, a majority of both parties in a Harris Poll question for No Labels, done over the last few days, reveals a national consensus for prohibiting the purchase of guns by those under 21. This includes 92 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of Independents and 77 percent of Republicans. They would still be able to use guns and serve in the police and the military, but they would not be able to buy them — period.

There has, for many years, been strong support for more gun-safety legislation, and the latest Harvard CAPS-Harris poll showed 61 percent favored a complete ban on assault rifles, but nearly 40 percent of households have a gun and many of those owners feel very strongly about their rights, hence the strength of the NRA and the power of this issue in congressional elections.

{mosads}Democrats in 1994 believe they paid a heavy price for their votes for an assault rifle ban, and it was not renewed, even under a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress. Even when he had even more than 60 senators, President Obama did not move gun legislation.

The Parkland, Fla., school shooting has surfaced the worst fears Americans have about guns and what can happen to their kids if they are not properly protected. It has also highlighted that a lot of the violence in our society occurs, in fact, among young people. It turns out that the bell curve of murders peaks at ages 21 to 24, with about one in five involving those age 21 or under. This suggests that delaying gun purchasing could have at least some actual impact on the murder rate, just as raising the alcohol age helped reduce drunk-driving deaths.

Overall, gun deaths have come down considerably over the last 20 years, while gun ownership has soared. According to FBI crime statistics, the homicide rate per 100,000 was 6.8 in 1997, fell as low as 4.4 in 2014, and increased somewhat to 5.3 in 2016. Most homicides are carried out by guns — typically handguns. In 2016, the FBI identified 274 murders done by rifles of any types, a small fraction of overall gun violence, but they were the weapons of choice for several recent mass shootings. Far more people were killed, however, with knives and more than 1,600 murders last year were carried out with bare fists.

Most of that violence is urban, not rural. The murder rate in Washington, D.C, for example, is over 20 per 100,000, or four times the national average. The murder rate in Chicago is nearly 30 per 100,000, and in Baltimore it is over 50. The gun violence that is surging is primarily in our cities (with New York as one notable exception), with handguns and with young people, though many of those would be over 21.

When it comes to the Parkland shooting, gun safety is not considered to be the most important issue. In the Harvard CAPS-Harris poll, 57 percent said that lack of attention to mental health issues was more important than the lack of gun-safety legislation. This poll was asked before information came out on the possible responsibility on the part of the local sheriff’s department in failing to respond to multiple calls and cowering outside with the school. When then asked what would do the most to curb school shootings, the public in the latest Harvard CAPS-Harris poll split almost evenly between added school safety, more attention to mental health issues and banning assault rifles.

The gist of this polling is straightforward: Gun legislation is one piece of a complex set of issues we need to tackle to deal with school shootings most effectively, and yet the political lines were too quickly drawn, as Democrats were yelling “guns, guns, guns,” and Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) were quick to talk about mental health but looked at the ceiling when gun safety was mentioned.

Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and President Trump are calling for a combination of programs to promote school safety, and their perspectives are closer to where the public opinion sits. I don’t understand why they have not called for 100,000 new cops for schools, with a federal-state revenue sharing and training program. That would be a hugely popular program that addresses the problem head on, and echo one that worked well to reduce crime in the 1990s.

Policy, personality and politics are all about to collide here and the logical outcome is stronger background checks, some age restrictions on at least some guns, more cops for schools, and greater investment in youth mental health. The alternative is yet more gridlock and public frustration.

Mark Penn is chairman of the Harris Poll and was pollster and senior adviser to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton from 1995 to 2008.

Tags Americans Bill Clinton Donald Trump Firearms Guns Hillary Clinton Paul Ryan

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