CHICAGO – A majority of US adults think gun violence is on the rise across the country and want gun laws to be made stricter, according to a new poll that finds broad public support for a variety of gun restrictions, including many that are supported by most Republicans and gun owners.
The survey by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also shows that most American adults believe that reducing gun violence and protecting gun ownership are important issues.
The survey was conducted between July 28 and August 1, after a series of deadly mass shootings, from a New York grocery store to a school in Texas to a Fourth of July parade in Illinois, and an increase in firearm murders in 2020 that have increased attention. on the issue of gun violence. Overall, 8 in 10 Americans perceive that gun violence is increasing across the country, with about two-thirds saying it is increasing in their state, though less than half believe it is increasing in their community, the survey shows.
The question of how to prevent such violence has long divided politicians and many voters, making it difficult to change gun laws. In June, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court expanded gun rights, finding a constitutional right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
Later that same month, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan gun safety bill into law. The package, passed in the wake of shootings like the one that killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, was a measured compromise and the most important bill addressing gun violence passed in Congress in decades, an indication of how intractable the problem has become.
The survey found that 71% of Americans say gun laws should be stricter, including about half of Republicans, the vast majority of Democrats and the majority of households that own guns.
Nicole Whitelaw, 29, is a Democrat and gun owner who grew up hunting and target shooting in upstate New York with her heavily Republican family. Whitelaw, who now lives along Florida’s Gulf Coast, supports some gun restrictions, such as banning people convicted of domestic violence from owning firearms and a federal law that prevents people with mental illness from buying guns.
He said other restrictions, such as banning sales of AR-15 rifles, are “going too far” and may not solve the problem. Whitelaw pointed to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people bought all the toilet paper they could find.
“I think people would start trying to stockpile weapons,” he said, adding that a better approach is to make smaller changes and see what impact they have.
The poll shows a bipartisan majority of Americans support a nationwide background check policy for all gun sales, a law that prevents mentally ill people from buying guns, that allows courts to temporarily bar people who are considered a danger to themselves or others to buy a gun, making 21 the minimum age to buy a gun nationwide and a ban on buying a gun for those who have been convicted of domestic violence.
A smaller majority of Americans (59%) favor banning the sale of AR-15 rifles and similar semi-automatic weapons, and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support that policy, 83% to 35%.
Chris Boylan, 47, of Indianapolis, opposes gun restrictions. As a teacher for many years, Boylan said he has “buried more kids than I can count” and believes gun violence is a significant problem. But the Republican, who said he leans more libertarian in his personal views, believes the problem has more to do with mental health and an overly lenient criminal justice system.
“Blaming the gun is an oversimplification of what the problems really are,” Boylan said. “It’s not the gun. It’s a matter of hearts and minds for me.”
The new survey finds that 88% of Americans call preventing mass shootings extremely or very important, and almost as many say it’s about reducing gun violence in general. But 60% also say it is very important to ensure that people can own guns for personal protection.
Overall, 52% of Americans, including 65% of Republicans and 39% of Democrats, say reducing mass shootings and protecting the right to own guns for personal protection are both very important.
University of Chicago professor Jens Ludwig said the survey findings show that the concerns raised by opponents of gun restrictions are “very misplaced.” Led by the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby argues that any new limitations on who can own a gun or what types of firearms can be sold will lead to nationwide bans on all guns and ammunition.
The poll showed most Americans’ views are more nuanced and there is support for some changes even among Republicans, who, as elected officials, generally oppose gun control, said Ludwig, who is also director of the Crime Lab. from the University of Chicago.
“It should close the door on some of the ‘slippery slope’ arguments,” he said.
The poll also found that only about 3 in 10 Americans support a law that allows people to carry guns in public without a permit. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats oppose. Among Republicans, 47% are in favor and 39% oppose.
Ervin Leach, 66, who lives in Troutman, North Carolina, north of Charlotte, thinks gun violence is a major problem and says the laws should be much stricter. A Democrat, Leach said he supports measures like background checks, or what he said should be “in-depth screenings,” and a minimum age of 21 to buy a gun.
The survey found that 1 in 5 people have experienced gun violence in the last five years, such as having been threatened with a gun or a victim of a gunshot, or having a close friend or family member who has. Black and Hispanic Americans are especially likely to say that they or someone close to them has experienced gun violence.
Leach, who is black, said the gun violence he sees on the news has made him more cautious.
“I don’t like people getting close to me,” he said. “Before, if someone was on the side of the road, you would stop to help. Now, if you go to help someone, you could lose your life.”
All the murders have made Leach consider buying a gun for his own protection. Although he has not yet had the opportunity to obtain a gun permit from him, he said, “That is my intention.”