In the wake of the shooting massacre at the Washington Navy Yard Monday, Americans are more likely to blame gun violence on the mental health system than easy access to guns, according to a new Gallup poll.
Although the percentage of people who blame failures in the mental health system "a great deal" for mass shootings has remained unchanged since 2011 (at 48 percent), the percentage of those who blame easy access to guns has dropped from 46 percent in 2011 to 40 percent in September 2013.
"While guns are a common denominator in the high-profile mass shootings that have shaken the nation in recent years, another has been the mentally unstable individuals committing the crimes," a report on the poll says. "The Washington Navy Yard case shares this element with some of the most familiar massacres of recent decades ... [many of which] involve stories of failures in mental health systems to raise sufficient red flags about the risk the ultimate perpetrators could represent."
The shooter in the Navy Yard massacre, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, was killed in a shoot-out with police, and his motive remains unknown. But officials have indicated Alexis had a history of mental instability and previous run-ins with police involving shooting incidents. Still, he was able to gain access to the Navy Yard and kill 12 employees on Monday.
Although the shooting has reignited the debate regarding gun control, fewer Americans today than after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 believe laws governing gun sales should be made stricter. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, 58 percent of Americans said gun laws should be made stricter, compared with 49 percent today.
Additionally, the percentage of Americans who said gun laws should be made less strict has increased from 6 percent in December 2012, to 13 percent now – the highest amount in Gallup's survey history dating to 1990.
The results continue a trend from as long ago as 2007, following the Virginia Tech shootings, in which Americans have increasingly pushed for more screening and monitoring of mental health problems than changing gun laws.
The participants ranked drug use as the third-highest cause of mass shootings, at 37 percent. But that number is five percentage points down from January 2011, shortly after the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in which six people were killed and 13 others were wounded, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
Gallup conducted the nationwide poll of more than 1,000 adults on Sept. 17 and Sept. 18.
Other perceived causes included violence in movies, video games and music lyrics, the spread of "extremist" views on the Internet, insufficient security in public buildings, and "inflammatory language" from political commentators.