In a development that should surprise no one, the American people in the weeks immediately following the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Conn., have responded in a more measured fashion than their politicians have. Polls are showing a level-headedness among the populace that has not been apparent inside the beltway.
On Thursday, Gallup released a poll showing that 58 percent of Americans said "the laws governing the sale of firearms" should be "made more strict." That is up from 43 percent just last year, but it remains 20 points below the high of 78 percent in 1990.
And for the first time this century, more Americans (47 percent) told Gallup that they preferred to see new gun laws as well as existing laws made tougher than said they preferred strengthening existing laws without passing new ones (46 percent).
What kinds of tougher gun laws do Americans support? The poll found that 62 percent supported outlawing ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets, and 92 percent supported performing background checks on all buyers at gun shows.
Given all the talk of gun bans and even confiscation, those are modest changes. There has been no shift in public opinion away from the idea that Americans should continue to be free to keep and bear arms.
But there has been a post-Newtown backlash. It has come not against the National Rifle Association or gun rights, but against those who have advocated taking away Americans' firearms. Asked if they would be for a ban on "assault rifles," 51 percent of Americans said no, only 44 percent said yes. Asked if they supported a ban on civilian ownership of handguns, a stunning 78 percent said no. That is the highest level of opposition to a handgun ban since Gallup began asking the question in 1959.
Gallup also found that 54 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the National Rifle Association. That is 36 points higher than Congress' approval rating as measured by another Gallup poll earlier this month. Any politician considering using Newtown to justify a massive gun grab should pause to consider why those numbers are not reversed.