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Posted at 11:35 AM ET, 01/10/2011

Why the Giffords shooting isn't likely to change nation's gun laws

By Chris Cillizza

In the aftermath of the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others over the weekend in Tucson, Ariz., there is speculation that the tragedy might provide a spark to long-dormant attempts to tighten the nation's gun laws.

If history is any guide, it almost certainly won't.

As we wrote in our "Monday Fix" column in today's newspaper:

Let's break down the numbers using poll data from Gallup, which has asked this basic gun-control question for the past two years: "In general, do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?"

In October, the most recent time the question was asked, 44 percent of respondents said laws should be more strict, 12 percent said they should be less strict and 42 percent said they should stay about the same.

Although those numbers may appear heartening for gun-control advocates, the trend line in the Gallup data paints a far different picture.

In the fall of 1990, a whopping 78 percent said they favored stricter gun laws, while 2 percent wanted less-strict laws and 17 percent said they preferred that the laws stay the same.

A decade later - in May 2000 - support for stricter restrictions had fallen to 62 percent, with 5 percent opting for less-strict laws and 31 percent wanting no changes.

Interestingly, the Gallup numbers are almost entirely unaffected by incidents of gun violence that draw national attention.

In 1999, when Gallup asked the question six times after the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, the number of those in favor of stricter laws ranged from 60 to 66 percent. The "less strict" number ranged from 5 to 9 percent and the "stay the same" number ranged from 25 to 31 percent.

The opinions were similar after the shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007. By October of that year, 51 percent favored stricter gun laws, a 5 percent decline from a similar Gallup survey taken in the fall of 2006.

What do you think? Will the Tucson shootings change the national conversation about gun control laws? Should it? The comments section awaits.

By Chris Cillizza  | January 10, 2011; 11:35 AM ET
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