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College Students Want Stricter Gun Control, Survey Finds

Nearly 70 percent of college students are in favor of banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, according to a survey conducted by College Pulse. 

Weapons that fit that description were believed to be used in the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio, and Gilroy, California. 

In El Paso, 22 people were killed and more than two dozen were injured after a gunman reportedly fired an AK47 variant at a WalMart. In Dayton, a separate gunman reportedly used a .223-caliber weapon, onto which he attached a 100-round drum magazine, to fire 41 shots in less than 30 seconds and kill nine people. And in Gilroy, a shooter reportedly used an AK-47 style weapon to kill three and injure more than 12 people.  

Looking at the College Pulse survey, which considered the opinion of 2,300 undergrads, it’s clear that students have had enough. And according to Terren Klein, CEO of College Pulse, students’ opinions may indicate an eventual shift in the public perception of guns. 

“The political opinions of students will influence our society,” Klein said. “As these students get older, they will take their views and experiences with them. Today’s students are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, activists, influencers and leaders.”

In addition to their overwhelming support of banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, only 30 percent of college students currently view the right to own guns as being “essential to their freedom,” according to the survey. 

But when broken down by gender, there are significant disparities in opinion. Eighteen percent of female students, compared to 45 percent of male students, view the Second Amendment as “essential to their freedom.” And in regards to banning assault weapons, 83 percent of female students and 49 percent of male students favor taking that measure. 

Yet, despite the gender gap, it’s evident that gun control is an important issue for college students, overall. And a majority of them favor sensible gun legislation, said Klein.

In many ways, college students’ stance on gun control makes sense. After all, the majority of American college students grew up in the post-Columbine era, where mass shootings have become increasingly rampant. 

Since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, nearly 2,500 people have been killed and more than 9,100 have been wounded as a result of mass shootings, according to Vox. And last year, alone, there were 373 people killed and 1,347 wounded in such attacks. 

Opinion of Americans, overall

Historically, compared to students, the rest of America has not been as eager to tighten gun laws. According to a Gallup poll, in 2018 only 60 percent of Americans supported stricter gun legislation, and only 40 percent supported banning assault weapons. 

But the most recent mass shootings — two of which happened within hours of each other — may have swayed public opinion. 

A brand new poll conducted August 5-7 by Morning Consult and Politico found that close to seven in 10 voters and 54 percent of Republicans now support an assault weapons ban. 

This shift in opinion bodes well for gun control advocates, but public opinion only matters so much. Change lies in the hands of the nation’s lawmakers.

Legislative need

Although state governments have begun to act, Congress has largely failed, in recent years, to pass any substantial gun legislation. 

In September 2004, Congress let the law on assault weapons ban, which was passed in 1994, expire.

And while in February 2019, the Democrat-controlled House passed two gun control bills that would strengthen background checks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to bring them to the Senate for a vote. 

In the aftermath of the El Paso mass shooting that occurred right after Dayton, more than 200 Democrat leaders have called on McConnell to reconvene the Senate, which has been adjourned for August recess, to vote on the House bills.

“El Paso, Dayton, one awful event after another. @SenateMajLdr McConnell must call the Senate back for an emergency session to put the House-passed universal background checks legislation on the Senate floor for debate and a vote immediately,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted on August 4.

While McConnell has shown no indication to do that, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) signalled his willingness to do so on August 4.

“I’d do it tonight, I’d leave tonight, I’ll go tomorrow. It doesn’t matter to me, this is such an important issue and an issue that we sometimes only get part of the picture because of the mass shootings,” Scott told “Face the Nation.”

And President Trump is seemingly convinced that tightening background checks is necessary. 

On August 7, he said, “I think background checks are important. I don’t want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people or people with rage or hate, sick people. I’m all in favor of it.” 

Trump has also indicated that he’s in favor of “red flag laws,” which would essentially allow judges to temporarily ban a potentially dangerous person from obtaining or possessing a firearm.

And considering the opinions of McConnell and other gun-law skeptics in the Senate, red flag laws seem like a more realistic first step in regards to bipartisan gun control. 

Already, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) decided to push a bipartisan plan to develop a federal grant program to encourage states to establish red flag laws. Such legislature had been suggested after the Parkland shooting in 2018, but never reached a vote. 

“Many of these shootings involved individuals who showed signs of violent behavior that are either ignored or not followed up,” Graham said in a statement. “State Red Flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late.”

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have already established red flag laws. But, Texas and Ohio have not. 

However, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told the Los Angeles Times that he is open to the proposal, noting that it may “bridge this issue of the guns and the mental health issue, where you identify somebody who has a mental health history that might not be formally diagnosed, but that people know about.”

But to the majority of college students and Democrats, establishing red flag laws doesn’t necessarily go far enough. 

The United States leads most of the developed world in firearm mortalities. And although some blame falls on mental health problems and exposure to media, evidence supports that where there are more guns, there is a higher risk of homicide. 

And attacks have become deadlier because of assault weapons.

But, legislation banning assault weapons looks unlikely so far. Trump has, to date, ruled it out. There is no “political appetite” for it, he said on August 7.

According to recent polls, though, he is wrong. A majority of Americans — including college students — now support an assault weapons ban. 

“Today’s political leaders would be wise to pay attention to what college students think about these fundamental issues,” Klein said.

2020 Democratic candidates’ positions

As far as the 2020 Democratic candidates go, they all support stricter gun control policies, but disagreements lie in the details of their plans. 

Here is a brief summary of the stance taken by some of the front-runners.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

No specific gun control plan is outlined on Warren’s website, but her history suggests that she supports universal background checks, gun licensing, and a ban on assault weapons, bump stocks, and high-capacity magazines. 

After the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Warren sent a letter to nine gun company investors warning them of the potential consequences of their decisions.

“Your company is in a powerful position,” she wrote in the letter. “You have reaped significant benefits from your investment in gun manufacturers, but have done little to reduce the violence and murders caused by their products. I encourage you [to] take action to ensure that the gun companies in which you invest are taking steps to reduce gun violence.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden 

Biden supports universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He also said he would support a federal gun buyback program.  

But gun control is nothing new topic to the former vice president. He has been pushing for stricter gun legislature for decades. In 1989, he sponsored a bill that would ban nine assault rifles, including the AR-15. In 1993, he voted in favor of the Brady Bill, which established a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases. And after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Obama made Biden the head of a task force to tackle the issue of gun violence.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

According to his website, Sanders now supports expanding background checks, ending the “gun show loophole,” banning the sale and distribution of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and he wants to “crack down on ‘straw purchases’ where people buy guns for criminals.” 

Historically, however, Sanders’ position on gun control has been further to the right than most in the Democratic Party. Working in 2015 as a senator from Vermont, reportedly the most gun-friendly state in the country, he favored a middle-of-the-road solution to the gun control issue that would bridge the cultural divide over guns and appease gun owners and gun control advocates alike.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg has expressed support for universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, establishing a nationwide gun licensing program, closing the “boyfriend loophole,” and closing the “Charleston loophole,” which allows people to purchase a gun, regardless of their history, if a background check takes more than three business days. He also supports the Disarm Hate Act, which would prevent people who have been convicted of hate crimes from buying a firearm. 

“I did not carry an assault weapon around a foreign country so I could come home and see them used to massacre my countrymen,” Buttigieg tweeted in 2017. 

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

Harris supports an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and repealing the NRA’s “corporate gun manufacturer immunity shield,” according to her website. Additionally, if Congress doesn’t send “comprehensive gun legislation” to her desk during her first 100 days as president, she vows to “take executive action to keep our kids and communities safe.” 

Specifically, she would “mandate the most comprehensive federal background checks in history, revoke the licenses of gun manufacturers that break the law, close the ‘boyfriend loophole’ to make it harder for domestic abusers to purchase guns, reverse President Trump’s dangerous decision to allow fugitives from justice to purchase guns, and ban the importation of AR-15 style assault weapons.”

“You can be in favor of the Second Amendment and also understand that there is no reason in a civil society that we should have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers,” she said during a CNN town hall in January.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

According to Booker’s website, he supports universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks, closing the Charleston and boyfriend loopholes, limiting gun buyers to one handgun per month, and “ramping up funding for community-based violence intervention programs.” 

Notably, after the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, Booker supported a filibuster to encourage the Senate to implement universal background checks and prohibit gun sales to anyone on the government’s terrorist watch list.

And two weeks after the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Booker pushed for the Senate to take action. “We know the majority of Americans, the overwhelming majority of Americans, know we can do more to prevent gun violence. To not act is to be complicit in the continued violence,” he said.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang

Yang believes in the Second Amendment, but he does call for common-sense safety regulations and background checks. Specifically, he supports a “tiered” system, where individuals can gradually obtain licensing for more “advanced” weaponry. After passing a background check, taking a safety course and providing a receipt for a gun locker, someone can buy a hunting rifle or handgun. After a year of ownership, someone would qualify to move onto the second tier, in which they qualify to purchase semi-automatic rifles, and so on.

In regards to regulations, Yang wants to ban all bump stocks, suppressors, incendiary ammunition and grenade launcher attachments. Additionally, he wants to create a federal buy-back program for anyone who decided they no longer want their firearm.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) 

According to O’Rourke’s website, he supports universal background checks, closing the Charleston loophole, closing the boyfriend loophole, passing red flag laws, and “keeping weapons of war on the battlefield.”

Historically, however, he has been adamant about not wanting to take away people’s Second Amendment rights. 

“It is not a politically easy thing to talk about, but I think if we talk about it from experience, out of pride and responsible gun ownership and ensuring that weapons of war are kept on the battlefield and they’re not used in our schools and concerts and communities, we’ll save a lot more lives and will do nothing to infringe upon any American’s Second Amendment rights,” he told the Associated Press.