April 17, 2015

Despite lower crime rates, support for gun rights increases

For most of the 1990s and the subsequent decade, a substantial majority of Americans believed it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun owners’ rights. But in December 2014, the balance of opinion flipped: For the first time, more Americans say that protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership, 52% to 46%.

A shift in favor of gun rightsWhy has public opinion shifted about gun control? As my colleagues at Pew Research Center have documented elsewhere, some of this is related to politics, as Republicans have become far more supportive of gun rights during the Obama years. The rise in support for gun rights has also spanned many other regional and demographic groups.

But there may be another factor behind this shift: Americans’ changing perceptions about crime. Over the past 25 years or so, there has been a divergence between American perceptions about crime and actual crime rates. And those who worried about crime had favored stricter gun control; now, they tend to desire keeping the laws as they are or loosening gun control. In short, we are at a moment when most Americans believe crime rates are rising and when most believe gun ownership – not gun control – makes people safer.

Public Perception of Crime Rate at Odds with RealityIn the 1990s, the rate of violent crimes plummeted by more than half nationwide. Public perceptions tracked right along, with the share saying there was more crime in the U.S. over the past year falling from 87% in 1993 to just 41% by 2001.

In the new century, however, there’s been a disconnect. A majority of Americans (63%) said in a Gallup survey last year that crime was on the rise, despite crime statistics holding near 20-year lows.

Why public views on crime have grown more dire is unclear, though many blame it on the nature of news coverage, reality TV and political rhetoric. Whatever the cause, this trend is not without consequence. Today, those who say that crime is rising are the most opposed to gun control: Just 45% want to see gun laws made more strict, compared with 53% of those who see crime rates as unchanged or dropping.

Support for Gun Control Has FallenThat’s not the way people thought 25 years ago. Not only was support for stricter gun regulation far higher overall in 1990, but it was also somewhat higher among those who felt crime was on the rise. People who thought crime rates were increasing were 9 percentage points more likely than those who saw crime rates as stable or decreasing to support stricter gun control laws. Today, they are 8 points less likely to support stricter gun control laws.

And when we analyze the numbers, this trend is especially pronounced among whites. Support for gun control has dropped most dramatically among whites who see crime on the rise – just 37% of those who now say crime is increasing say they favor stricter gun control, compared with 78% who said the same in 1990.

Majority of Americans Say Having a Gun in the House Makes It SaferAmong whites who do not see crime growing, that decline has been much more modest, from 68% supporting stricter gun laws to 52% today. While Gallup’s survey sample among non-whites was not large enough to provide a comparison, generally non-whites have remained more supportive of gun control.

Other recent data confirm this pattern. A 2013 Pew Research survey showed that protection is now the top reason gun owners offer for why they choose to own a gun (in 1999, hunting was the top reason). And among the public at large, the latest Gallup survey finds that 63% of Americans now say having a gun in the home makes it a safer place compared with 30% who say it makes a home more dangerous. Fifteen years ago, more said the presence of a gun made a home more dangerous (51%) than safer (35%).

Topics: Gun Policy, Violence and Society

  1. Photo of Andrew Kohut

    is founding director of Pew Research Center.


  1. Jeanie2 years ago

    Mr. Kohut: It is clear there is a cultural cognition problem from non gun owners who write these Pew analyses, when you Pew titles this “Despite lower crime rates, support for gun rights increases.” You can see Pew’s juxtaposition, and assumption of some kind of logical inverse relationship between the two, is strained by changing one of the variables.
    In fact overall support for gun rights, with the exception of a few tweaks is increasing because gun ownership is increasing. The reported number of gun owners and gun owning homes is likely a significant and large undercount.

    Even a cursory glance at the numbers GSS, Pew and Gallup are getting shows a clear relationship on the level of perceived anonymity and the responses to the question on gun ownership. Which outfit gets the lowest number? GSS. What is their method on gun ownership question? Face-to-face interviews.

    As Pew itself has noted, undercounts of who will answer affirmatively if they are gay, even in an anonymous telephone surveys, is known to be a 40% to 70% undercount (See Ohio State/BU research). Face to face gets the lowest numbers. The peer reviewed work shows a similar pattern on surveying whether a person has had an abortion, where we have in fact the longitudinal data from other metrics, and know that half of polled persons who have had an abortion will say no.

    The reason to not tell an interviewer you have a firearm at home has been increasing. There is no doubt a strategy if stigmatizing firearms owners has been adopted by the advocates of additional gun control. Even more significantly, as Pew itself and other studies have noted, firearms ownership[p has gone from overwhelmingly sport based, to mainly personal and family protection.

    Has anyone from Pew working on this issue even taken a firearms for household protection class? Have they looked at either published or informal training materials inducing material from law enforcement? Asked a family member who is a police officer if you should tell anyone that you have a firearm at home? New owner are consistently told to never tell any stranger of a gun at home as it increases the chance of burglary when you are not home. The public knows databases are being cracked all the time. And we even have FOI requests, that have listed gun owners in NY in the press. Not only are you getting an undercount, it is very likely your demographic distribution is also inaccurate as women and younger and middle age demographics are undercounted most.

    The peer reviewed studies — which Pew itself has noted on privacy related issues, but not on guns (why?) show indirect of “veiled” questions give a more accurate result.

    You already have a veiled or indirect question: pew finds 57% of Americans say having a gun in the home makes the household safer from crimes. Pew finds about 63%. The peer social science says that is the more likely 57%-63%.

    Really, does it occur or not, to Pew that a 65 year-old-male in Tennessee who has grown up with peers hunting, gun racks and NRA stickers on half the vehicles, and where gun ownership is presumptive, would answer yes; while a person like me, a single younger female in the North East, who has a home handgun solely for personal protection, would take the advice of my DOJ cousin who trained me, and tell no one?

    1. Ben Allen2 years ago

      Sorry, but your argumebts are flawed. People aren’t forced to give an answer to these polls, they are willing participants.
      Gun ownership and acceptance is much more likely to be linked to the Lizard brain. People are/have been bombarded with instant media coverage over the last 20 years, or large scale domestic civil unrest and rioting and mass shootings and terror attacks. People will naturally see guns as a means to self protection. More worrying is the apparent trend of the public losing confidence in State and Federal law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order and keep the populace safe from violent crime.

  2. John Mehoff2 years ago

    Well it seem to me that public opinion changed because after 25yrs of stricter gun control the people finally figured out that criminals don’t follow the laws so the only ones effected by gun control are law abiding citizens. Also, because our police are mainly a reactive organization who show up after the crime has already taken place people are realizing they have a much better chance of protecting themselves from criminals with guns by arming themselves.


    1. Donna2 years ago


    2. Julianne2 years ago

      These views are exactly what the article is commenting about. I’m curious when this viewpoint switched. All research shows that gun ownership increases the risk of death by gun shot (probably pulling out a gun will irritate a criminal?) and the risk for being killed in your own home by a gun increases 2x once someone owns a gun. One of many, many studies: aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/1…

    3. chico2 years ago

      seems logical

  3. Blurf2 years ago

    “Despite lower crime rates, support for gun rights increases” should be “Lower crime rates demonstrate effect of support for gun rights.”

  4. Dave2 years ago

    Secular pregressives are losing on this issue people aren’t buying it

  5. Dave2 years ago

    I support constutional carry for Indiana

  6. WDM2 years ago

    The basic assumption in the Pew analysis is faulty. While some see gun ownership as a response to crime, protection against criminal activity is not and was not the underlying reason for the Constitutional recognition of the right of gun ownership. The Second Amendment was adopted to give the people the means of countering an oppressive government. If you factor this into your analysis, you may find that support for gun ownership correlates well with increasing government intrusion into personal liberties.

    1. Jelena2 years ago


  7. Michael2 years ago

    I think your analysis is a little off. I know plenty of pro gun people who cite the falling crime rate as evidence that stricter gun control is an unnecessary infringement of individual liberties. There are also, of course, the quite common concerns that Ben Shapiro famously addressed on Piers Morgan’s show.

    Freedom isn’t always safe, and most Americans are proud to live with the burden of that reality.

  8. Ars2 years ago

    Sorry, you gun-grabbers need to keep your anti-Constitutional mitts off of rights.

  9. Carl R Gottstein Jr.2 years ago

    Democrats are wrong…All day long.

  10. Mark Pugner2 years ago

    “Why public views on crime have grown more dire is unclear, though many blame it on the nature of news coverage, reality TV and political rhetoric.”

    How about we the people are witnessing our government becoming even more tyrannical by the day??? Did that thought never enter your mind? Perhaps THAT is the problem.

  11. W Canaday2 years ago

    pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/0… accessed 04/22/2015 @ 14:16 EDT.

    ^^^^^^^^^^^ included so that I can make proper attribution should I quote from this page in the future.

    Spice64 has a valid point … you don’t seem to be asking about government crimes … and there seem to be plenty to choose from.

    For instance, with scandals reaching all the way back to Bill Clinton’s time as a governor, Hilary Clinton has a lot to answer for but has managed to elude justice because she’s part of the “elite”. We consider Whitewater, the death of Vince Foster, the lost files that congress subpoened (only to have them turn up laer “surprise!” in a file cabinet in the residencial section of the White House), Ben Ghazi, her blatant mishandling of official correspondence while Secretary of State and, most recently, information that the Clinton Foundation broke the law in accepting funds from the Haitian government, to be CRIMES for which there may never be any prosecution … but crimes, nonetheless. Her “privilege” protects her from us … but our only protection against her (an the list of similar criminals is legion) is our ability to shoot back.

  12. Robert R. McBride2 years ago

    I do hope that this is a sign of America returning to the side of freedom. There are millions upon millions of firearms in America that you never hear of. The only firearms the news talks about are the ones used by nefarious people or pressed into action defending against nefarious people.

  13. fsilber2 years ago

    I think it’s because the pro-gun side has the better arguments and, despite the efforts of the mainstream media, over time the internet exposes people to those arguments.

  14. Some Dude2 years ago

    “Despite” lower crime rates support for gun rights increases.

    Huh. Maybe law abiding citizens excersizing their 2nd amendment rights is part of what is causing lower crime rates.

    Kinda like a headline I saw a few years ago, “despite decreases in crime, support for longer criminal sentencing increases”

  15. jack burton2 years ago

    Was the headline writer Fox Butterfield?

  16. DanD2 years ago

    Your title should be changed to “Lower Crime Rates Due to Increased Support for Gun Rights”. Violent crimes are more likely to occur in gun free zones or in areas with very strict gun ownership laws. The criminals don’t like getting shot at in their attempt to pillage others. They will go to those safe areas to commit crimes. I think people are finally realizing that creating new laws that make gun ownership more restrictive doesn’t stop violent crime. If you think about it, laws don’t stop crimes. If that were true life would be a Garden of Eden. There would be no murder, drug crimes, drunk driving, theft, etc. etc. etc.
    People are also realizing that Law Enforcement personnel can’t be there with you at all times. You are completely on your own to protect yourself in sudden situation.

    1. Regina2 years ago


  17. Liz2 years ago

    States with more carry permits have less violent crime than same region, same demographic states with less carry permits/sticker gun laws.

    The gun control groups and pro gun control researchers claim otherwise by using widely disparate states.

    Compare Virginia with same region almost identical a age, income, and education demographic Maryland. They share a major metro (DC) and have their own major metros (Richmond and Baltimore). Virginia has 22 times more (that is 22 times more, not 22% more) non law enforcement related handgun carry licences per capita . It has 20% more home gun ownership. Virginia has no magazine limit, no assault rifle ban. Virginia gets an “F” from gun control groups and Maryland gets an “A”

    Maryland has 50% more murder per capita.

  18. P Miller2 years ago

    1. I think the perceptions of crime is interesting.I would like to see a demographic breakdown on that. In my experience it is political orientation correlated. The people I know who are advocates of increased gun control are certain US gun murder is up. (The FBI data from the 2014 shows the 1992-2014 decrease is almost 60%.)

    Pew should survey people for attitudes on gun control together with perceptions of US gun homicide rate trends. I believe a cognition problem with inversion of the actual trend in the minds of increased gun control advocates will be found.

    2. “And among the public at large, the latest Gallup survey finds that 63% of Americans now say having a gun in the home makes it a safer place”

    And if you are not a felon, gang member or person with five or more arrests, owing a firearm does make you and your household members about 18% safer than same region same demographic homes that have no firearm.

    I also think Pew ought to look at gun ownership rates and the likely severe undercount. The gallup shows it likely is 63%. here is why:

    Yes, GSS says 33% of US homes have guns. Gallup gets 43%-47% the past few years. But GSS uses a methodology known to undercount gays, garnering from 1/4 to 1/2 the actual number. I had worked the census in college years ago. GSS is a face-to-face with low confidence of anonymity. We also know people in face to face answer as if their answers were public, meaning fear of theft, or concern over judgment by the interviewer come into play. One may as well ask if the person has large amounts of cash or jewelry in the home.

    I think it also affects not only the raw numbers reported, but the demographics of who owns firearms vs of who we think owns firearms. I have cousin in Virginia with an NRA sticker on his vehicle. I am a more leftward leaning woman living in Massachusetts. if virtually anyone asked me if I owned a firearm, I would say no. My dad, a recently retired federal law enforcement official always has told me never tell anyone.

    We know from survey problems with establishing the number of LBGT that indirect, “round about questions”, are more accurate than direct questions. Pew ought to keep that in mind with any surveys on questions that maybe affected by privacy/social stigma concerns by those polled, and both note that in any numbers published and look at possible indirect questions.

  19. Garret T Hebenstreit2 years ago

    You won’t see this poll reported on by the MSM.

  20. John Dalco2 years ago

    Your own stats show that as gun laws decreased and lawful access to guns increased crime dropped. Crime is not dropping despite more folks having guns but BECAUSE more good folks have guns. Time to take off the blinders and look at the facts. In every case where restrictive gun laws have been struck down and more lawful gun owners bought guns crime dropped. . . . says it all.

  21. Spencer Carp2 years ago

    Really amazing how none of the mainstream media companies have reported on this…

  22. Missouri Mule2 years ago

    Dear Sir, Your headline explains your bewilderment. Crime is in part declining because of the increase of ownership and concealed carry adopted by law abiding Americans who have a lower offense rate than law enforcement personnel. The police cannot be everywhere. Armed citizens can. Americans have simply woken up to reality.

  23. Spencer Car2 years ago

    A better headline would have been ‘Support for increased gun rights may be leading to lower crime rates”.

    While it’s certainly true that people choose to own firearms due to crime, it’s also well documented that criminals fear an armed victim.

    Given that the typical drivers of crime are economic, and we are just coming out of a mini-depression, you would expect crime to be up significantly.

    One of the factors behind the current low crime rates is certainly the fact that criminals know they are more likely to meet armed resistance than ever before.

  24. Montana Libertarian2 years ago

    Actually, your argument is flawed.

    There is a correlation between higher rates of gun ownership and greater numbers of private individuals with concealed weapons permits and declining rates of crime.

    Furthermore, the quasi public health approach to restricting fundamental human rights is misguided. Accidental shootings are in decline along with rates of violent crime.

    The real solution to criminals acquiring guns is to control the criminals, not the guns. Pass laws that remove any discretion from the legal system over arrests for that infraction.

    If a felon is encountered in possession of a firearm, the officer must arrest. If probable cause is sustained at arraignment, the felon must be held until trial. There would be no ability to grant bail and no ability to plea bargain because felons in possession are so dangerous.

    Upon conviction, the sentence must be 40 years of incarceration, with no good time and no ability to pardon or commute. You’ll see a decline in instances of felon in possession.

  25. Jake2 years ago

    Maybe it is something as simple as people are recognizing that protection is a personal responsibility as much if not more then a public one

  26. Triple Lindy2 years ago

    More guns = less crime. Dr. John Lott was right.

  27. Brian Coss2 years ago

    “But there may be another factor behind this shift: Americans’ changing perceptions about crime.”

    How about focusing on the people’s changing perception of THEIR relationship with government and specifically the Second Amendment?

    People talk about the absurdity of an armed people triumphant over a tyrannical government. But these people miss the point by focusing on an actual combat. The point of the Second Amendment is enforcing the reality of a creditable deterrent to potential abuses by government agents, not actually spilling the blood of tyrants.

    For those who harbor the misconception that government force is absolute, I refer you to the history of the first civil war battle at Manassas Virginia. Onlookers brought picnic baskets intending to watch the Union forces trounce the confederates. But reality was the opposite.

    Here in America – we the people – are not subjects of this government. The Constitution spells out clearly the limitations for any government/government agent working for the people.

  28. George Sayre2 years ago

    The democrats are angels of mercy.

  29. Sp602 years ago

    Sorry, but the headline gets it wrong. It should read:

    “Support for gun rights increases causing crime rates to drop”

    An armed victim is the biggest deterrent to criminal attacks. This has been proven over and over, usually from the mouths of violent criminals themselves.

    The old gun control mantra of ‘more guns=more crime’ is completely disproven, as we have more guns in the hands of more people than ever before in US history, and we have the lowest violent crime rates in 30-50 years.

  30. HAlftone1752 years ago

    Lower crime rates are because of gun rights.

  31. 2A Tom2 years ago

    Of course, there is absolutely no correlation between more relaxed carry laws for citizens, more citizens taking responsibility for their personal safety and lower crime rates.
    If the crime statistics of the cities with the most oppressive gun control laws is removed from the US crime statistics, The US would look like the safest place in the world.

  32. Spice542 years ago

    You may be missing some of the ‘crimes’ people are thinking about when asked if crime is up. Robbery and rape are what you look at, many also see ‘crime’ in the corruption in government, activist judges, executive fiat, and the press lying about events. So you may want to add a question or two to your surveys.

    1. Montana Libertarian2 years ago

      Spice54: to your excellent list I would add:

      -committing perjury before Congress (with no consequences)

      -vast seizures of citizen’s data in clear violation of the fourth amendment

      -all three branches of government ignoring the vital need to respect separation of powers and vigilantly maintain that separation

    2. jo2 years ago

      Surveys are generally designed to get the results you want. Liberals/media use them extensively in order to alter public opinion, or to frighten people into giving up their personal liberties and freedom. Polls are for amusement purposes only. If a person wants facts, they should do their own research, since many research/scientists like to skew data.