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Attitudes towards firearm policies: surprising areas of agreement, unsurprising partisan influence

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Jacob Boavista
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Given the horrible tragedies that have recently occurred in Buffalo, Uvalde, Highland Park and elsewhere American politicians (and the American public) are debating a number of policies meant to address issues related to mass killings with firearms. In fact, the bipartisan Safer Communities Act was recently signed into law, which includes some policies discussed below. This blog post is meant to address what Americans think about such firearm safety proposals using public opinion data. To be clear, this blog post is not advocating for or against such proposals. There are plenty of passionate write ups advocating for certain positions and you can find those elsewhere. We’re just sharing a bit of insight to the minds of Americans. With that in mind, what do Americans think about some of the policy proposals related to firearms? Considering our recent post about the growing partisan divide in America, how does partisanship impact attitudes?

Recently Morning Consult in conjunction with Politico collected a representative nationwide survey that asked numerous questions related to firearms. This survey helps give us some understanding of where the American public stands on policies related to firearms. While there are others that have been conducted recently as well, I focus on this one due to depth of the questions asked, but the results are consistent with other polling work. Something to keep in mind as well is that public opinion is a snapshot, in this case it is one taken in the immediate aftermath of tragedies. In the aftermath of such tragedies, it would be no surprise to find that some people have a great deal of anger, contempt, and fear. Based on previous research involving Center for State Policy and Leadership staff, we know that these emotions have an impact on views of firearms relate policies. Due to this we will also want to look backwards where we can to understand how opinion has changed over the years (which we will do here) and keep an eye on how things may change in the near future (which I encourage us all to do). So starting with the Morning Consult poll, I want to focus first on areas where there is more agreement across the political spectrum before looking at areas where there is more disagreement.

Areas where there is more agreement:

  • 88% of respondents support requiring background checks on all firearm sales. There is perhaps a smaller amount of partisan variation than we would expect, with 91% of Democrats, 86% of independents, and 86% of Republicans supporting requiring background checks on firearm sales. Further, this includes 88% of those who live in homes with firearms, which is the same those who live in homes without firearms.
  • Relatedly, 81% support specifically requiring background checks on private sales or “gun show” This includes 87% of Democrats, 82% of Independents, and 81% of Republicans. Further, 81% of those living in a home with firearms support such a policy.
  • 84% of respondents support a firearm ban on those deemed dangerous by mental health providers and reported to law enforcement. This includes 88% of Democrats, 82% of Independents, and 81% of Republicans. This includes 83% of respondents who live in households with firearms.
  • 83% of respondents support not allowing people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors of purchasing firearms. This includes 86% of Democrats, 83% of Independents, and 80% of Republicans. This also includes 80% of those living in households with firearms.
  • 80% of all survey respondents support a mandatory waiting period of three days after a firearm is purchased before it can be taken home. 86% of Democrats, 79% of Independents, and 73% of Republicans support such a “cooling off” period. This includes 77% of people living in a household with a firearm.
  • 80% of respondents support requiring a person be 21 or older in order to purchase a firearm. This includes 86% of Democrats, 80% of Independents, and 75% of Republicans. This also includes 78% of those living in households with firearms. There is little variation in these results when the question narrows to so-called “assault rifles.”
  • 79% support barring those on the federal no-fly or watch lists from being able to purchase firearms. There is a bit more partisan variation here, though it remains large majorities of Democrats (84%), independents (77%), and Republicans (75%). This includes 76% of those who live in homes with firearms.
  • There is also not much optimism when it comes to the occurrence of mass shootings. Just 5% of those surveyed think there will be fewer mass shootings over the next few years. This pessimism is unfortunately something folks across the political aisle agree on. 5% of Democrats think there will be fewer, compared to 4% of Independents and 7% of Republicans. 7% of those residing in homes with firearms share this sentiment.

Areas where there is more disagreement include:

  • 76% support requiring that all firearm owners store their firearms in a safe storage unit. This includes 85% of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 67% of Republicans. Further 71% of those living in homes with firearms support such a proposal.
  • 75% of respondents support a national database with information about each firearm sale. This includes 88% of Democrats, 74% of Independents, and 63% of Republicans. A similar 72% of respondents in live in a household with a firearm support a national database.
  • 67% of respondents support a banning so-called “assault rifles.” This includes 83% of Democrats, 69% of Independents, and 49% of Republicans. This includes 56% of respondents who live in a household with a firearm.
  • 69% support banning high-capacity ammunition magazines. This includes 82% of Democrats, 71% of Independents, and 53% of Republicans. Included in this is 60% of those living in a household with a firearm.
  • 65% of respondents support banning firearms from schools and college campuses nationally. 84% of Democrats support such a policy compared to 62% of Independents, and 50% of Republicans. 60% of those who live in a household that has firearms support this proposed policy.
  • 54% support equipping school teachers and staff with concealed firearms to respond in the event of a school shooting. This includes 39% of Democrats, 50% of Independents, and 73% of Republicans. This includes 64% of those living in a household with firearms.
  • Lastly, there is disagreement on the causes of mass shootings. 73% place at least some blame on the “easy access to guns.” 89% of Democrats report this compared to 73% of Independents, and 59% of Republicans. 50% place at least some blame on violent video games. 50% of Democrats report this compared to 45% of Independents, and 53% of Republicans. 81% of respondents place at least some blame on a lack of access to treatment for mental illness. This explanation has the smallest partisan variation. 84% of Democrats report this, compared to 79% of Independents, and 80% of Republicans.

So how do these results compare with previous results? Keep in mind that when it comes to survey research question wording matters. So for comparison sake, I will focus on questions that have as close as possible wording to get at accurate comparisons. Thankfully, Gallup has asked numerous questions related to firearms for several years, so we’ll pull our comparison data from them for the sake of simplicity. We don’t have comparison points for every question asked above, but we do have some. So let’s dive into those.

  • According to Gallup, since 2000 approximately 40% of Americans have reported living in a home where there was a firearm. Morning Consult found approximately the same rate (38%).
  • We’ve seen an increase in support for banning so-called “assault rifles.” In 2018, Gallup found 56% of people supported such a policy, in 2019 this had risen slightly to 61%. In 2022, this has risen further to 67% in the Morning Consult poll.
  • In 2017, Gallup found 96% of Americans supported requiring background checks for all firearm sales. This had lowered to 92% in 2018. In 2022, Morning Consult found 88% support such a policy. So we’ve seen a small but incremental decrease in such policies over the past five years though an overwhelming majority still support such a policy.
  • In 2018, Gallup found 42% of Americans supported arming teachers or school officials. In 2022, Morning Consult has found support has risen to 54%.
  • In 2018 68% supported raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to at least 21. In 2022, support has risen to 80% according to Morning Consult.
  • In 2015 Gallup found 86% of Americans supported a centralized database for all firearm purchases compared to Morning Consult finding 75% support such a policy in 2022.
  • In 2013, according to Gallup 54% of Americans supported banning high capacity magazines. In 2022, this has risen to 69% according to Morning Consult.
  • In 2019, Gallup found 69% of Americans said an “easy access to guns” either contributed at least somewhat to mass shootings. A similar rate 73% report this in 2022, according to Morning Consult.

Collectively this polling data tell us some useful pieces of information. While there are obviously areas of disagreements, there are numerous policies that large majorities of Americans agree on. Background checks, mental health provider intervention, raising the age to purchase any firearm, and restrictions on those who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors all have support of at least 80% of Americans. As well, a large majority places at least some blame on mass shootings on America’s failure to address mental health issues. However, there are areas where of stark partisan differences. This includes arming educators, banning firearms from schools and college campuses, banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, and banning so-called “assault rifles.” Whether the areas of shared agreement form the basis of policies passed by legislatures is beyond the scope of this post, but in an era of heightened partisan disagreement finding areas of agreement is one potential positive here.

The Center for State Policy and Leadership will be holding a series of webinars around firearms in America. 
This is part of the first in a three-part series including panel discussions and general overviews of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States – what do we know, what does the data tell us, and how do social and structural determinants contribute. Constitutional, global and comparative gun laws and perspectives will be addressed, along with the social equity dimensions of gun violence and mass shootings. The panelists address specific research on the under examined phenomenon of gun homicide and injury rates in small cities and mid-sized cities compared to big city gun homicide rates. Moreover, research on media framing of gun violence and different definitions of mass shootings used by various entities within media, academia and government agencies are explored.

Courtesy of The Capitol Connection the blog of the UIS College of Public Affairs and Education and the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership.

Author biography: AJ Simmons is the Research Director of the Center for State Policy and Leadership at UIS. He holds a PhD from the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University. He likes bowling and discussing politics with people he disagrees with.
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