Back in the late 1990s, the Harvard School of Public Health undertook an exhaustive study of Americans’ attitudes toward guns. Given our reputation as a trigger-hungry nation, the findings were surprising–and worth revisiting in light of the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech.

“Americans feel less safe rather than more safe as more people in their community begin to carry guns,” the paper, published in 2001, stated. “By margins of at least nine to one, Americans do not believe that ‘regular’ citizens should be allowed to bring their guns into restaurants, college campuses, sports stadiums, bars, hospitals, or government buildings.” [Via Down With Tyranny.]

The study shows a striking disconnect between the policies promoted by the NRA (and passed by politicians) and the views of the public. After Columbine, for example, “bills were introduced to bolster background checks, force the inclusion of trigger locks with gun sales, and close legal loopholes that allowed firearms to be bought from gun shows without full background checks,” according to the Washington Post. “But the NRA helped scuttle those measures.”

As the Harvard study notes, the US has the highest rates of gun ownership in the developed world and the highest rates of gun homicide. Compare that to the much-vilified French. Guns are nearly impossible to procure in France and, according to David Rieff’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine “homicide rates are far, far lower than in American cities.”

The state of Virginia, by contrast, allows its residents to buy a gun a month, with a background check that take minutes. Maybe it’s time to say that laws like these are crazy.