ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has shifted public attitudes toward gun control, but only a little. That's the conclusion of a new poll out today from the Pew Research Center.
And director Andrew Kohut joins me to talk about what they found. Andy, welcome back.
ANDREW KOHUT: Happy to be here.
BLOCK: Your poll was taken earlier this week, just a few days after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. And as you say, you find a modest tilt in the public opinion but not much.
KOHUT: Yeah, 49 percent said it's more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun owner rights, 42 percent. That's the first time over the past four years that we've had a plurality, a clear plurality, saying controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting gun owner rights.
BLOCK: So, 49-42, but if you compare that with before Barack Obama took office, you actually see there's more support now for the right to own guns, less support for gun control.
KOHUT: Yes, we did 10 surveys over the course of the period 1993 through 2008. And in every one of those surveys, a majority of the people, we said, said it was more important to control gun owner rights. The last time we did it, pre-Obama, was April of 2008 and we had a 58 to 32 percent majority saying more important to control gun ownership.
Obama came to office, the Democrats took control of the Congress and public opinion changed.
BLOCK: And, Andy, what in the other questions that you asked helped explain where the public is right now on gun control?
KOHUT: Well, we find that most people have very strong attitudes about this question of controlling guns or protecting gun owner rights. Eighty percent of the people who gave us an answer, one way or another, said I feel strongly about this. But the second thing is - and this is an element in the robustness of support for gun owner rights - is a 48 to 37 percent plurality saying that gun ownership does more to protect the American people than to put American lives at risk.
BLOCK: It's interesting, though, Andy, because when you honed in on certain weapons and ammunition, the numbers do shift in interesting ways. Most Americans say they would not support banning handguns or semiautomatic weapons. But they would support a ban on bullets that explode, that penetrate bulletproof vests or on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
KOHUT: Majorities of Americans expressed support for both of those reforms. But on more basic things, like handgun control, there's very little movement. And, you know, we're not the only poll to show this. The ABC/Washington Post survey earlier this week also found that just a modest increase in people saying - since this summer - saying that there should be stronger laws that control guns. I think 51 to 54 percent.
BLOCK: Within these numbers, Andy, on either support for or opposition to gun rights, there is a sizable gender gap and also a sizable racial gap.
KOHUT: Very large - gender divide, 57 percent of women say controlling guns is more important. But 51 percent of men say, no, protecting gun owner rights is more important. We see on race, a majority of whites say its protecting gun ownership. But 68 percent of blacks say, no, it's more important to control gun ownership.
BLOCK: Another question, Andy, had to do with assault weapons. And by a margin of 3-to-1, people said they think assault weapons make the country more dangerous.
KOHUT: That's right. There's a strong view on that. But when we ask about banning semiautomatic weapons - and assault weapons are a class of that kind weapon - on balance, a small plurality say no. So even on the issue of semiautomatic weapons there's not exactly a groundswell to say: Let's take them out of play.
BLOCK: Andrew Kohut directs the Pew Research Center. Andy, thanks again.
KOHUT: You're welcome.