As President Barack Obama unveils a new initiative aimed at curbing gun violence this week, the public’s attitudes about gun policy will garner renewed attention. Here are some key facts about gun attitudes from recent Pew Research Center surveys:
And Pew Research isn’t the only polling organization with these findings. In 2013, a number of other polling organizations found similar results about public views of background checks, asking slightly different questions. A review of more recent polls on this question finds it’s still the case.
Other proposals were more contentious, however. Fully 85% of Democrats, but just 55% of Republicans, supported a federal database to track gun sales. And while 70% of Democrats favored a ban on assault-style weapons, only about half of Republicans (48%) did so.
2Background checks have proven to be more contentious in practice than in principle. In May 2013, after the Senate rejected the Manchin-Toomey bill to extend background checks to internet and gun show sales, we found that the public was more supportive of background checks in principle than they were of the legislation aimed at achieving this goal.
At the time, 81% favored expanded background checks, while 73% wanted the background checks bill to pass. Among Republicans – especially Tea Party Republicans – support for background-check legislation was much lower than for the overall proposal: 63% of Tea Party Republicans and leaners supported expanded background checks but just 28% wanted the background-check bill to pass.
When we asked those who supported tougher background checks, but opposed the bill, to describe in their own words why they felt that way, the responses were revealing: Many voiced suspicions that the bill would go too far or that it would be a “slippery slope” toward stricter gun controls.
There were substantial gender, race, age, education and regional differences in these attitudes. Men said the GOP better reflects their views on gun control by 46% to 34%; women were divided (40% said the Republicans and an identical percentage said the Democrats).
Adults with postgraduate degrees are the only educational group that favored the Democrats on gun control (53% Democratic Party vs. 33% Republican Party). Those with less education were either divided or said the Republican Party better reflects their views on this issue.
On the other hand, liberal Democrats and Democratic leaners were more likely to say in July that the NRA has too much control than they were in 2000 (68% vs. 57%).
In 2013, gun owners overwhelmingly said having a gun in their household makes them feel safer – fully 79% expressed this view. Yet about as many (78%) said having a gun was something they enjoyed.
By contrast, most people (58%) who did not have guns in their homes said they would not be comfortable having a gun. And when asked why they would feel uncomfortable, concern about accidents was the most frequently mentioned reason.