July 27, 2013

Gun Control: Key Data Points from Pew Research

Americans are closely divided over whether it is more important to control gun ownership or protect gun rights, with the trend edging back in favor of gun rights.

In the days after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. last December, more prioritized gun control than gun rights (49% vs. 42%), the first time this had occurred since Barack Obama became president. Roughly five months later, the public is again evenly divided over whether in general it is more important to control gun ownership (50%) or to protect the rights of Americans to own guns (48%), according to our May 2013 survey. This mirrors the close divide in opinion that existed prior to Newtown. 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 February 2013 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 2013 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 was a significant partisan divide in our February 2013 survey 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, according to a December 2012 survey.

There is broad support for a few gun policy proposals, but sharp partisan divides on others.

More than eight-in-ten (81%) of Americans support background checks for private and gun show sales, a position for which there is broad partisan agreement, according to our May survey. But while the public overall supports proposals to ban assault-style, it is by much smaller majorities.

FT_Gun_GapWhile solid majorities of Democrats (80%) and independents (69%0 support creation of a federal database to track all gun sales, only 48% of Republicans share that view, according to our May 2013 survey. About seven-in-ten (68%) of Democrats favor a ban on assault-style weapons compared with 54% of independents and 39% of Republicans. About half (51%) of Republicans favor more teachers and officials having guns in schools, a view share by only a minority of Democrats and independents.

The overall public backing for expanded background checks did not translate into support for the background checks bill that was killed in the Senate in April. While 81% of Republicans supported expanded checks, only 57% backed the Senate bill.

There is a substantial gap between those who prioritize gun rights and gun control when it comes to political involvement.

The biggest difference is in the area of making contributions to activist organizations: 25% of those who prioritize gun rights say they have, at some point, contributed money to an organization that takes a position on the issue, but just 6% of those who prioritize gun control have done so, according to our May 2013 survey.

Also, among those who prioritize gun rights, 41% say they would not vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on gun policy, even if they agreed with the candidate on most other issues. Fewer gun control supporters (31%) say gun policy is a make-or-break voting issue for them.

The Who and Whys of Gun Owners and Non-Gun Owners

About four-in-ten Americans report having a gun in their household, either their own or someone else’s.

KDP_Gun_OwnersA survey in early May 2013 found that 41% of adults reported having a gun in their household: 27% said they personally owned a gun, and 14% said the gun or guns in their home were owned by someone else. Men are almost three times as likely as women (40% vs. 14%) to personally own a gun.

The reason cited most frequently in a February 2013 survey 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  said 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.

Index to other Key Data Point fact sheets