NEW POLL: Americans Believe Fewer Guns Will Keep Us SaferJune 14, 2017
To: Interested Parties
From: Margie Omero, PSB Research
RE: New National Polling on Guns
Date: June 8, 2017
New polling by PSB Research shows the current gun debate continues to be out of step with Americans’ policy preferences. Most likely voters think there are too many guns in circulation, and believe they should be harder to get. A majority prioritize reducing gun deaths over protecting gun rights, and even fewer support an agenda to expand gun rights. And while much of the recent public debate has focused on the overwhelming support for improving background checks, our research shows majorities also support a wide range of proposals to reduce gun violence.
Americans want fewer guns that are harder to get
A majority of Americans (54%) believe there should be fewer guns in circulation, and even more (61%) say they should be harder to get. Democratic support for stronger gun limits is particularly intense (72% fewer, 78% harder). Among likely voters in gun-owning households, only 27% believe there should be more guns in circulation, and only 13% believe it should be easier to obtain them.
Most prioritize public safety over gun rights
Much of the polling on American attitudes on guns has relied on decades-old tracking questions that fail to reflect the choices the public actually faces today. As I have written for The Huffington Post and Center for American Progress, it is misleading to ask people to choose between “controlling gun ownership” and “protecting gun rights.” This structure compares a vague and anodyne means (controlling ownership) to an end (protecting rights). Further, a focus on protecting mischaracterizes the debate taking place in Congress and statehouses nationwide, which is often focused more on gun rights being expanded. Survey questions should reflect these realities.
In our research, clear majorities favor “reducing the number of gun deaths” over “protecting” gun rights (59% vs. 41%). A significantly larger majority favor reducing gun deaths over “expanding” gun rights (75% vs. 25%), a phrase that more accurately frames the choice the public faces. Even gun-owning households fit this pattern. While two-thirds prioritize “protecting” rights, just 39% prioritize “expanding” rights.
Voters say more guns don’t make them feel safer
The public’s opposition to expanding gun rights is potentially related to another key finding: most people reject the claim that allowing more guns in public places would keep them safer. A majority say allowing more people to carry guns in public places like grocery stores, restaurants, sporting events would make them less safe (55%), while only 24% said it would make them feel safer. About a third of gun owners (32%) feel more guns would make them less safe.
Majorities support stronger gun laws
The public’s support for reducing the number of guns and making them harder to get appears to be driving support for stronger gun laws, both broadly and specifically. More than half (57%) say gun laws should be “stronger” than they are now. Democrats feel particularly intense on this point (76%), but even a plurality of voters in gun households want to see stronger laws (44%).
Specific proposals garner even more widespread support. Of the 16 policies we tested, majorities of Americans favor all but one, with substantial support from gun owners. The policies tested include bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines; mandatory gun licensing with requirements for safety training and background checks; barring weapons in public places like schools, stadiums and bars; and limiting household gun purchases to one per month.
Several particularly strong policies that some might assume to be controversial, including a national gun registry and mandatory gun buyback programs, also enjoy majority support. Only an outright ban on handgun ownership fails to gain majority support, but over a third of Americans would support such a ban.
While Americans across the board support policies to reduce gun violence, Democrats are most passionate in their views. Of the 16 proposals examined, a majority of Democrats strongly support most of them.
Our poll is consistent with other research demonstrating that specific gun safety proposals are substantially more popular than “gun control” or “controlling guns.” This is similar to public opinion on other issues, including the well-documented pattern with the Affordable Care Act and Common Core, where specific policies enjoy considerably more support than general concepts.
The data also reinforce the more recent trend of high Democratic enthusiasm. We found Democrats to outnumber Republicans, similar to the national average and matching a recent Fox News poll. Nationally, polls consistently show Democrats giving Trump single-digit approval and favorability ratings. And Pew found Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say their party is “united.” Beyond showing Democrats are united behind stronger gun laws, our findings are consistent with the broader issue climate, where the GOP has ceded the advantage on a range of policy issues, including, again, the Affordable Care Act.
The overarching conclusion is clear: far from being divisive or hyper-partisan, many strong gun safety proposals are widely popular.
PSB Research conducted online interviews with 1,294 general population respondents in the US. All responses in this memo are of self-reported likely voters. Interviews were conducted between May 19th-21st, 2017.