77% see mental health screening, not gun control, as solution to mass shootings

February 21, 2018

Most Americans believe that the nation could have prevented the massacre of 17 students and staff members on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, based on findings of an ABC News/Washington Post poll released on February 20.

However, when considering the cautionary, legislative steps that could have been taken, gun control takes a backseat to psychiatric services among the respondents: While more than half (58%) of the 808 respondents said stricter gun laws could have prevented the shooting, a larger number (77%) said better mental health monitoring and treatment would have averted it.

Specifically, allowing teachers to carry guns— called an “opportunity and an option” by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last week—is much lower on the list of preventative steps than mental health care: Just 42% percent believe that armed staff members could have prevented the killings.

Desire for action is evident in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates: 77% of U.S. adults say that Congress is not doing enough to try to stop such shootings, and 62 percent say the same of President Donald Trump.

According to ABC, many people feel “strongly” that action to date has been inadequate: 59% in the case of Congress; 50% as relates to Trump.

The public’s especially broad endorsement of improved mental health screening and treatment is in line with another result: Americans by a 2-to-1 margin blame mass shootings mainly on problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems, rather than on inadequate gun control laws.

Still, compared with a 2015 ABC News/Post survey, somewhat fewer mainly blame mental health screening (down 6 points) and somewhat more blame inadequate gun control laws (up 5 points). Greater concern about mental health screening over gun laws was 63-23 percent then, vs. 57-28 percent now.

Banning assault weapons—the alleged shooter in Parkland wielded a semiautomatic AR-15-style rifle— remains a more divisive issue, with nearly even numbers on both sides (50% in support and 46% percent opposed).

Opinions on banning assault weapons are marked by especially sharp differences among demographic groups: 55% of women support a ban, compared with 43%of men. That reflects a vast gap between white women (60% support) and white men (39%). There is no such gender gap among non-whites. The gap widens further, when looking at support for an assault weapons ban among college-educated white women (65%) versus non-college-educated white men (36%).

Research contact: heather.m.riley@abc.com

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