By a slim margin, more Americans believe it is important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns than it is to control gun ownership, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.
Fifty-two percent of Americans surveyed by Pew said it is more important to protect gun rights, while only 46 percent said it is more important to control gun ownership. The poll marks first time in over two decades that respondents have voiced greater support for gun rights than gun control in a Pew poll.
Republicans in the survey voiced greater support for protecting gun rights (77 percent) than controlling gun ownership (22 percent), while Democrats said it was more important to control gun ownership (69 percent) than to protect gun rights (28 percent).
The results come on the eve of the anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six faculty members. That tragedy catalyzed an ultimately unsuccessful push for stricter gun laws in the U.S. Congress.
In the aftermath of that shooting, gun control advocates seemed to have the upper hand in public opinion surveys: A Pew poll in January 2013 showed 45 percent of Americans voicing support for protecting gun rights and 51 percent of Americans voicing support for gun control. Today, those numbers are roughly flipped.
The survey also found a growing number of people who believe guns serve primarily to protect people. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said gun ownership does more to protect people from violent crime, while only 38 percent said it does more to endanger personal safety. In the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, those numbers were 48 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
The increase in the number of Americans who believe guns do more to protect than endanger people has been particularly pronounced among black respondents. Only 29 percent of blacks said guns serve to protect people from violent crime in December 2012, while 54 percent of blacks believe that to be true today.
Pew's poll surveyed 1,507 American adults between December 3 and 7, and results based on the full sample carry a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.