Gun owners and non-gun owners agree on many gun safety proposals

National public opinion survey finds widespread support for policies that restrict or regulate firearms

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Image caption: Survey included questions about support for universal background checks and safety training for concealed carry permits

Image credit: Aurimas Mikolauskas / Pixabay

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Alicia Samuels
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A new national public opinion survey from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds widespread agreement among gun owners and non-gun owners in their support for policies that restrict or regulate firearms.

The survey measured support for 24 different gun policies and found minimal gaps in support between gun owners and non-gun owners for 15, or 63 percent, of the policies. For 23 of the 24 policies examined, the majority of respondents supported gun restrictions or regulations, including requiring a background check on every gun sale (universal background check) and prohibiting a person subject to a temporary domestic violence restraining order from having a gun for the duration of the order.

"Widespread claims that a chasm separates gun owners from non-gun owners in their support for gun safety policies distracts attention from many areas of genuine agreement..."
Colleen Barry
chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management

The survey was fielded in January 2017 and is the third National Survey of Gun Policy conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Researchers used the National Opinion Research Center's AmeriSpeaks online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The study sample included 2,124 adults (602 gun owners, 1,522 non-gun owners) ages 18 years and older.

The findings were published online today in the American Journal of Public Health.

In 2016, firearms were responsible for more than 38,000 U.S. deaths and 116,000 nonfatal gunshot wounds treated in U.S. hospitals. The United States continues to debate measures at both the state and federal levels that seek to address gun violence.

The policies with the highest overall public support and minimal support gaps by gun ownership status included:

  • Universal background checks (supported by 85.3 percent of gun owners and 88.7 percent of non-gun owners)
  • License suspension for gun dealers who cannot account for 20 or more guns in their inventory (supported by 82.1 percent of gun owners and 85.7 percent of non-gun owners)
  • Higher safety training standards for concealed-carry permit holders (supported by 83 percent of gun owners and 85.3 percent of non-gun owners)
  • Improved reporting of records related to mental illness for background checks (supported by 83.9 percent of gun owners and 83.5 percent of non-gun owners)
  • Gun prohibitions for people subject to temporary domestic violence restraining orders (supported by 76.9 percent of gun owners and 82.3 percent of non-gun owners)
  • Gun violence restraining orders, which are commonly referred to as extreme risk protection orders or Red Flag laws (supported by 74.6 percent of gun owners and 80.3 percent of non-gun owners)

"Policies with high overall support among both gun owners and non-gun owners may be the most feasible to enact, and some have strong evidence to support their ability to reduce gun violence," says lead author Colleen Barry, a professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. "Widespread claims that a chasm separates gun owners from non-gun owners in their support for gun safety policies distracts attention from many areas of genuine agreement—areas that can lead to policy solutions and result in the prevention of gun violence."

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The survey did find several points of disagreement between gun owners and non-gun owners. Nine of the 24 policies examined had greater than 10-point support-gaps. More than half of gun owners, however, still favor several of these policies to restrict or regulate guns. These policies include:

  • Requiring that a person lock up guns in the home when not in use to prevent access by youth (supported by 58 percent of gun owners and 78.9 percent of non-gun owners)
  • Allowing information about which particular gun dealers sell the most guns that are then used in crimes to be available to the police and public (supported by 62.9 percent of gun owners and 73.4 percent of non-gun owners)
  • Requiring a person to obtain a license from local law enforcement before buying a gun (supported by 63.1 percent of gun owners and 81.3 percent of non-gun owners)
  • Allowing cities to sue gun dealers when there is evidence that the dealer's practices allow criminals to obtain guns (supported by 66.7 percent of gun owners and 77.9 percent of non-gun owners)

Two survey questions on concealed carry were new in the 2017 survey. Results show that 25.1 percent of respondents (42.6 percent of gun owners, 19.3 percent of non-gun owners) believe a person who can legally carry a gun should be allowed to bring that gun onto K-12 school grounds, and 84.7 percent of respondents (83 percent of gun owners, 85.3 percent of non-gun owners) believe that a person who can legally carry a concealed gun should be required to pass a test demonstrating they can safely handle the gun in common situations they may encounter.

"There is data supporting the efficacy of many of the policies with wide support among both gun owners and those who don't own guns," says study co-author Daniel Websterhttps://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/739/daniel-webster director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. "Relatively few states have these laws in place. This signals an opportunity for policy makers to enact policies which are both evidence-based and widely supported."

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