Gun Control: Key Data Points from Pew Research
Public opinion shifted modestly toward support for gun control in the immediate aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012. Since then, there has been very little change in public attitudes, according to our survey conducted in February.
Currently, 50% say controlling gun ownership is the more important priority while 46% say it is to protect the right of Americans to own guns. You can use this interactive to see 20 years of public opinion on this question, as well as break-outs of opinions by demographic groups.
Americans overall see both positive and negative consequences in enacting stricter gun laws.
By 54% to 43%, more agree that stricter gun laws would reduce the number of deaths caused by mass shootings, according to our Feb. 13-18 survey. However, by comparable margins, the public also says that stricter gun laws would make it more difficult for people to protect their homes and families (by 58% to 39%) and give too much power to the government (57% to 40%).
There are wide partisan divides in views about the effectiveness of new gun laws.
In most cases, the gaps between Democrats and Republicans about the consequences of new gun laws are much wider than they were 20 years ago. The February 13-18 survey found that no more than about a third of Republicans agree that stricter laws would reduce the number of deaths from mass shootings (29%) or accidental gun deaths (32%), or would keep guns out of the hands of criminals (31%). More than seven-in-ten Democrats agree with each of these assertions.
Republicans’ views about whether stricter gun laws would reduce the number of accidental gun deaths have changed markedly over the past two decades. In a 1993 Gallup survey, 61% of Republicans agreed that stricter gun laws would reduce the number of gun deaths caused by accidents and suicides; in the current survey, which asks only about accidental gun deaths, just 32% of Republicans agree.
Consequently, there is a significant partisan divide over importance of passing major legislation about guns this year.
While overall views on gun control vs. gun rights showed only a modest change, there was a more noticeable shift in public opinion after the Newtown shootings about whether such incidents reflected broader social problems or not.
After the Jan. 2011 shootings in Tucson, Ariz. and the July 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colo., clear majorities said the incidents were just the isolated acts of troubled individuals. But the public was divided on that question after Newtown, with 47% saying the shootings reflected broader societal problems and 44% calling them isolated acts.
There is broad support for a few gun policy proposals, but sharp partisan divides on others.
More than eight-in-ten (83%) of Americans support background checks for private and gun show sales, a position for which there is broad partisan agreement, according to our February survey. But while the public overall supports proposals to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition, it is by much smaller majorities.
About seven-in-ten (71%) of Democrats favor a ban on assault-style weapons compared with 52% of independents and 43% of Republicans. The partisan pattern is similar in opinions about a high-capacity ammunition ban.
While there was overwhelming support for expanding background checks for private gun sales, our polling found a divided reaction to an April. 17 Senate vote on legislation that included that measure. Some 47% of the public had negative feelings about the vote while 39% saw it positively, according to our April survey. That result tracked more closely to earlier measures of the public’s broad views on gun control than to attitudes toward background checks specifically.
Our Jan. 9 -13 survey found majority support for several other gun policy proposals, but most Americans opposed one that we tested: having more teachers and school officials with guns in schools.
There was broad bipartisan support for laws to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns, but wide partisan gaps on other proposals that were part of the January survey. More than eight-in-ten (84%) Democrats backed a federal database to track gun sales compared to 49% of Republicans. About six-in-ten (61%) Democrats supported a banning online sales of ammunition compared to 41% of Republicans. While majorities of Democrats and Republicans backed the idea of putting armed security guard and police in more schools, there was a 33-point gap between Republicans and Democrats who backed the idea of more teachers and school officials having guns.
Mixed Reactions to Obama’s Gun Proposals
A mid-January survey shows mixed reactions to Barack Obama’s proposals, which included expanded background checks and bans on military-assault style weapons and high-capacity magazines. A 39% plurality say Obama’s proposals are about right while another 13% say they do not go far enough. About three-in-ten (31%) say the president’s proposals go too far. The report includes breakdowns by gender, party and education.
Gun rights advocates are generally more engaged than gun control advocates in supporting their cause.
There are some wide gaps when it comes to political involvement between those who prioritize gun rights and those who put the greater priority on gun control.
The Who and Whys of Gun Owners and Non-Gun Owners
About a quarter of Americans say they personally own a gun, rifle or pistol; another 13% say someone else in their household has a gun. About six-in-ten Americans do not have a gun in their household, according to our February survey.
The general profile of gun owners in America differs substantially from the general public. About six-in-ten (61%) of adults who own guns are white men. Nationwide, white men make up only 32% of the U.S. adult population.
The reason now cited most frequently by gun owners for having a gun is protection of their homes and families, in contrast to 1999 when the reason cited most frequently was for hunting.
Nearly six-in-ten of those who do not have guns in their households say they would not feel comfortable with having a gun in their home and most cite worries over an accident or other safety concerns as the top reasons.
Read more Pew Research reports on Gun Control.
Browse our other key data points on these topics: