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Poll: Who's to blame for mass shootings? On that, some bipartisan agreement

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President Trump suggested linking gun control legislation to immigration laws after the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, mass shootings.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Americans overwhelmingly blame the mental health system, racism and white nationalism, and loose gun laws for a series of mass shootings that have shaken communities across the country.

A USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll taken Monday and Tuesday, in the wake of deadly violence in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shows bipartisan agreement on some of the factors people hold responsible for incidents of gun violence. It is an issue on their minds; many say fear of mass shootings has changed the way they live their daily lives.

Though there are partisan divisions – including over the role President Donald Trump and his rhetoric have played in the violence – there is broad agreement on steps Congress should take. 

A majority of those surveyed, including 59% of Republicans, say the U.S. Senate should pass two measures approved this year by the House of Representatives that would tighten background checks on gun purchasers. Overall, two-thirds, 67%, support passage of the bills. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring them up for consideration.

More than half of those surveyed say McConnell should cancel the Senate’s August recess to hold a vote.

McConnell: This is the gun control legislation he won’t allow senators to vote on

The poll illustrates some of the political undercurrents that have complicated and often paralyzed proposals for a government response to mass shootings that have killed people going about their regular routines – shopping for back-to-school supplies, enjoying a Saturday night out on the town, worshiping in a synagogue.

Republicans are more likely to say violent video games play a role, for instance – 60% compared with 47% of Democrats. Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to blame gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association – 72% versus 37%.

And Trump?

Nearly three of four Democrats, 74%, say some of the responsibility is on the president, who has been criticized for tweets condemned as racist and provocative rhetoric aimed at Mexicans, Muslims, blacks and others. That compares with 23% of Republicans – although the fact that nearly one in four of his fellow Republicans place some blame on Trump is notable. 

A 51% majority of Republicans join an overwhelming 83% of Democrats in blaming loose gun laws. 

More than two-thirds of Americans, 69%, say racism and white nationalism hold some responsibility for the mass shootings. That includes 84% of Democrats and 57% of Republicans. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed blame the mental health system, the factor that tops the list.

“Americans across the board are horrified by these mass shootings and looking for stronger gun violence measures,” says Cliff Young, president of Ipsos Public Affairs. “Unfortunately, there is an absolute inability to come to consensus on the issue, because the perceived symptoms and causes of these shootings are seen through partisan lenses.”

Most Democrats blame congressional Republicans. Most Republicans blame congressional Democrats.

Red flag laws, mental health concerns: How the GOP is responding to El Paso, Dayton 

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  • People arrive at MacArthur Elementary looking for family and friends as the school is being used a re-unification center during the aftermath of a shooting at the Walmart in the Cielo Vista Mall area Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.1 of 30
  • People arrive at MacArthur Elementary looking for family and friends as the school is being used a re-unification center during the aftermath of a shooting at the Walmart in the Cielo Vista Mall area Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.2 of 30
  • Walmart employees comfort one another after an active shooter opened fire at the Walmart at Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, Tx. on Saturday, August 3, 2019.  3 of 30
  • Police interview witnesses to the shooting near Cielo Vista Mall on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Tx.4 of 30
  • Department of Homeland Security police are shown at the scene of the shooting at Walmart in the Cielo Vista Mall area Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Tx.5 of 30
  • An El Paso police officer lifts the tape barrier at the shooting scene at the Walmart in the Cielo Vista area on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Tx.6 of 30
  • Police interview witnesses to the shooting near Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, Tx. on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.7 of 30
  • Kendall Long, left, comforts Kianna Long who was in the freezer section of a Walmart during a shooting incident, in El Paso, Tx. on Aug. 3, 2019. Reports state that at least 10 people have been killed and 30 are injured. Police say that one male suspect is in custody.8 of 30
  • Several law enforcement agencies respond to an active shooter Saturday at the Walmart at Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso.  9 of 30
  • Anabel Hebben comforts her daughter, Leilani, 11, after leaving flowers at the Walmart shooting scene in El Paso on Aug.4, 2019. 10 of 30
  • Texas State Troopers block a road leading to the Walmart shooting scene in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 11 of 30
  • Daniella Novoa holds her son Richard, 10-months, after placing flowers and a poster outside Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 12 of 30
  • Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke shakes hands with shooting survivor Carlos Santos near the Walmart shooting scene in El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019. Santos was in the checkout line with his father when gunfire erupted. 13 of 30
  • Shooting survivor Virginia Chacon talks with Texas Highway Patrol trooper Gilbert Flores outside the Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019. Chacon was inside the store when gunfire broke out and escape by running.14 of 30
  • Friends, family members, and strangers on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas at MacArthur School Elementary-Intermediate School. A family reunification site was set up at MacArthur School for friends and families missing loved ones after the shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart. Red Cross official Colin Williams said approximately 25 people stayed overnight. 15 of 30
  • Friends, family members, and strangers on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas at MacArthur School Elementary-Intermediate School. A family reunification site was set up at MacArthur School for friends and families missing loved ones after the shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.16 of 30
  • People hug outside of MacArthur School Elementary-Intermediate School on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A family reunification site has been designated at the site for friends and families missing loved ones after the shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.17 of 30
  • Phlebotomist Yaranely Armendariz draws blood from Sarah Bolanos on Aug., 4, 2019, at the United Blood Services in east El Paso, Texas. The response for blood has been so high theyve had to turn away donors and make appointments for a later date. 18 of 30
  • Felipe Avila mourns outside Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 19 of 30
  • Gael Banderas, 7, arranges rocks on signs at a makeshift memorial outside Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 20 of 30
  • Gilbert Medina comforts his daughter Gabby and son Sebastian at a makeshift memorial outside Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 21 of 30
  • Two women hug on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas at MacArthur School Elementary-Intermediate School. A family reunification site was set up at MacArthur School for friends and families missing loved ones after the shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.22 of 30
  • August 4, 2019; El Paso, TX, USA; Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso) speaks to the media before a march at Houston Park in El Paso August 4, 2019. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen were injured in a mass shooting at Walmart on Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow/The Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK ORIG FILE ID:  20190804_ajw_usa_080.jpg23 of 30
  • Lyda Ness hugs Freddy Klayel-Avalos before starting a march at Houston Park in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 24 of 30
  • A man holds a sign directed at President Trump before a march at Houston Park in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 25 of 30
  • Monica Charter organizes a table of freshly printed El Paso Strong t-shirts at Proper Printshop in El Paso, Texas on Aug. 5, 2019. All proceeds from the sale of the shirts will be donated to the El Paso Community Foundations El Paso Shooting Victims Fund. 26 of 30
  • A group of Walmart employees lay flowers and candles at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 5, 2019.27 of 30
  • A memorial for the 22 shooting victims at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 5, 2019. 28 of 30
  • People visit a memorial for the 22 shooting victims at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 5, 2019. 29 of 30
  • An FBI agent works at the crime scene at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 5, 2019. 30 of 30

The online poll of 1,004 adults has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Americans are paying attention.

More than nine in 10 say they are familiar with or have heard about the gun violence over the past week in El Paso and Dayton. Even so, eight in 10 say they have felt mostly or very safe in public spaces over the past few weeks; 15% have felt mostly or very unsafe.

Nearly half of those surveyed say the threat of mass shootings in recent years has affected their lives. About one in five, 21%, say they have skipped public events where a lot of people will gather. Nearly as many, 18%, say they have avoided shopping in crowded places. One in four, 25%, have talked with family members about what to do if a shooting happened in a place where they were. 

A handful, 7%, have contacted public officials to press for new laws.

Across party lines, Americans agree that gun laws should be stricter, although the survey didn’t explore the details of that debate. By more than 6-1, those surveyed support stricter gun laws, not looser ones. The margin was wide even among Republicans, though the GOP generally has opposed new gun laws. By 3-1, 54%-18%, Republicans say gun laws should be tightened. Democrats, by a sweeping 87%-7%, agree.

That doesn’t reflect a significant shift in public sentiment after the latest mass shootings. The results were similar to those found in Ipsos polls taken in February 2018 and October 2017. Since those surveys, the federal government hasn’t enacted stricter gun laws.

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Jamila McNichols embraces her son, Mason, 2, in front of her brother Thomas “TJ” McNichols’ makeshift memorial on East Fifth Street in Dayton’s Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people, including TJ. “Life is so short for all the crazy madness going on, life is too short,” said McNichols, as she reflected on her brother’s death, “You just can’t get them back.” Meg Vogel

  • Finesse McNichols places candles to make TJ in front of a makeshift memorial on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27. McNichols' brother, Thomas TJ McNichols, was one of the victims.1 of 26
  • A man prays the rosary in front of Ned Peppers on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.2 of 26
  • Dayton Strong signs line East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.3 of 26
  • Dozens of media outlets line East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.4 of 26
  • Flowers, notes and candles are left on the sidewalk of East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.5 of 26
  • Jamila McNichols embraces her son, Mason, 2, in front of her brother Thomas TJ McNichols' makeshift memorial on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people, including TJ. Life is so short for all the crazy madness going on, life is too short, said McNichols, as she reflected on her brother's death, You just can't get them back.6 of 26
  • Candles are left on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.7 of 26
  • Flowers are left on the sidewalk of East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.8 of 26
  • Flowers and candles are left in front of Ned Peppers on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.9 of 26
  • Flowers rest in a bullet hole in a window on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.10 of 26
  • Flowers and candles are left on the sidewalk in front of Ned Peppers on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.11 of 26
  • Flowers rest in a bullet hole in a window on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.12 of 26
  • Steven Prince and son, Marcus Prince, visit the memorial in front of Ned Pepper's Bar on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.13 of 26
  • Flowers and candles are left on the sidewalk in front of Ned Peppers on East Fifth Street in Dayton's Oregon District Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.14 of 26
  • Television Crews set up on the South side of East Fifth Street across from a memorial set up in front of the Hole in the Wall on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.15 of 26
  • Chalk graffiti and flowers left along the sidewalks on East Fifth Street in Dayton on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.16 of 26
  • Oregon District business Heart Mercantile displays the names of the victims of Sunday morning's shooting in front of their store on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.17 of 26
  • Chalk graffiti along the sidewalks on East Fifth Street in Dayton on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019.18 of 26
  • Bellbrook chief of police Doug Doherty answers questions near the home of Oregon District shooting suspect Connor Betts in Bellbrook, Ohio, on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. 19 of 26
  • Bellbrook chief of police Doug Doherty answers questions near the home of Oregon District shooting suspect Connor Betts in Bellbrook, Ohio, on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. 20 of 26
  • Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl answers questions at a press conference at the Dayton Convention Center Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.21 of 26
  • Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley answers questions at a press conference at the Dayton Convention Center Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.22 of 26
  • Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl answers questions at a press conference at the Dayton Convention Center Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.23 of 26
  • Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley answer questions at a press conference at the Dayton Convention Center Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.24 of 26
  • Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl answers questions at a press conference at the Dayton Convention Center Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.25 of 26
  • Dayton's Mayor Nan Whaley holds a press conference at the Dayton Convention Center Monday, August 5, 2019, the day after a gunman killed nine people and injured 27.26 of 26

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