Governor Abbott Navigates Public Attitudes and Political Realities with Gun Policy Announcement

Governor Abbott’s announcement of his “broad based school safety plan” contained a list of actions he said could be taken immediately as well as a list of proposals requiring legislative action. Among the most prominent proposals were several that focus attention on mental health as a means of preventing mass shootings – a theme that emerges in polling in Texas and nationally on mass shootings – as well as a host of other proposals that appear to focus on early detection, security measures at schools, and measures that would provide a small degree of what what might call “gun control” – including adding 17 year olds to the definition of “children” that requires adults to use child safety locks on guns, and required reporting of lost or stolen guns. None of the major proposals for addressing the supply of guns and access to them (such as broadening background checks or limiting types of weapons) found their way into the governor’s press conference, which prefaced tweaks to gun laws with a reminder of his record of staunch support of Second Amendment rights. 

We’ve gathered some relevant results from the dozens of items on gun rights, gun control, and gun violence that we’ve included in University of Texas / Texas Tribune Polling over the last several years, during which there have been at least 180 school shootings. They provide some context for what the governor included and left out in his proposals.  NOTE:  here is a link to the Governor's "School and Firearm Safery Action Plan,"(pdf), released after this post was initially published.)

The October 2017 UT/TT poll asked Texans what factor was most to blame for mass shootings. A large plurality of Democrats blamed current gun laws. The most frequent response among Republicans blamed failures in the mental health system, though there was less consensus among Republicans than among Democrats.

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Failures of the mental health system24%
Current gun laws21%
Drug use2%
Violence in popular culture5%
Spread of extremist points of view on the internet13%
Insufficient security at public buildings5%
Inflamatory language from political commentators4%
Unstable family situations5%
Media attention given to perpetrators10%
Don't know/no opinion10%

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Failures of the mental health system16%33%28%
Current gun laws43%12%4%
Drug use1%0%3%
Violence in popular culture1%7%9%
Spread of extremist points of view on the internet12%9%16%
Insufficient security at public buildings6%7%4%
Inflamatory language from political commentators3%6%4%
Unstable family situations3%4%8%
Media attention given to perpetrators5%11%15%
Don't know/no opinion9%11%9%

Looking at more basic attitudes toward gun laws, these results suggest some of the underlying attitudes influencing views of the causes of mass shootings (and possible policy responses).

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More strict52%
Less strict13%
Left as they are now31%
Don't know/no opinion5%

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More strict86%38%25%
Less strict4%16%19%
Left as they are now6%41%51%
Don't know/no opinion4%5%5%

Similarly, the partisan patterns in views of the relationship between guns and safety can be expected to inform responses to approaches that emphasize training for expanding armed security, whether it be marshalls or teachers and administrators. 

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Less safe41%
No impact14%
Don't know/no opinion7%

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Less safe75%31%13%
No impact14%15%14%
Don't know/no opinion6%10%7%

Within all of these results, the more gun-friendly views of the most engaged Republicans who identify with the Tea Party (and vote in GOP primaries) shape the politics of both attempts by the Governor to shape the agenda in this area, and any likely action by the legislature.

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Failures of the mental health system16%31%27%
Current gun laws46%5%3%
Drug use1%3%4%
Violence in popular culture2%7%13%
Spread of extremist points of view on the internet10%14%15%
Insufficient security at public buildings4%12%0%
Inflamatory language from political commentators4%2%8%
Unstable family situations3%7%8%
Media attention given to perpetrators5%14%17%
Don't know/no opinion9%6%6%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
More strict88%35%11%
Less strict2%11%38%
Left as they are now6%51%50%
Don't know/no opinion4%2%1%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Less safe76%16%8%
No impact14%19%4%
Don't know/no opinion6%7%3%