American Views on Gun Policy
Left and right largely agree on tightening certain laws, yet there are notable partisan and gender gaps.
With this weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio dominating the news, here’s something that’s not news: A majority of Americans—57%—agree that gun laws should be stricter, and a larger majority agree on tightening a handful of specific policies, with 85% saying background checks should be required for private gun sales and sales at gun shows, and roughly two-thirds backing bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. That’s according to a survey last fall by the Pew Research Center.
Women and men view the issue much differently:
A separate survey by the Gallup organization, also from fall 2018 but with different questions and methods, finds 61% of Americans support stricter laws on the sale of firearms. The figure has gone up and down over the years: it was 78% in 1990 and reached a low of 43% in 2012. The 2018 Gallup survey found stricter gun laws are favored by 87% of Democrats and 31% of Republicans. While 70% of women favor stricter gun laws, according to Gallup, 51% of men are so inclined.
Back to the survey from Pew, which separated the results into two groups: Democrats and people who lean Democrat (left, for the purposes of the following breakdown) and Republicans and people who lean Republican (right).
On three of the 10 questions, more than three-quarters of people in both groups — left / right — support tighter policies:
- Prevent people with mental illness from buying guns: 89% / 89%
- Require background checks for private sales and sales at gun shows: 91% / 79%
- Bar gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists: 86% / 83%
On three other questions, at least half in each group favor stricter laws:
- Create a federal database to track gun sales: 88% / 58%
- Ban high-capacity magazines: 81% / 51%
- Ban assault-style weapons: 81% / 50%
Few agree with these policies (meaning they favor stricter laws):
- Shorten waiting periods for buying guns legally: 22% / 43%
- Allow concealed carry without a permit: 9% / 27%
The starkest divisions between left and right are on these two policy issues:
- Allow concealed carry in more places: 26% / 68%
- Allow teachers and officials to carry guns in K-12 schools: 22% / 69%
Overall views on gun policy have changed only slightly over time: In 2018, 52% of Americans said it’s more important to control gun ownership than to protect the right to own guns (44%). These figures have gone up and down a few percentage points over the past 15 years, but are close to the same split seen in 2003 (54% to 42%). Meanwhile, the partisan gap on this question has widened, from a roughly 27-point gap 15 years ago to 57 points now.
The Pew survey, conducted Sept. 18–24, 2018, involved 5,503 participants and has a margin of error of 2.1 percentage points. The Gallup survey, done Oct. 1–10, 2018, involved 1,019 adults with a 4 percent margin of error.