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In U.S., Record-Low Support for Stricter Gun Laws

In U.S., Record-Low Support for Stricter Gun Laws

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup finds a new low of 44% of Americans saying the laws covering firearm sales should be made more strict. That is down 5 points in the last year and 34 points from the high of 78% recorded the first time the question was asked, in 1990.

Do You Feel That Laws Covering the Sale of Firearms Should Be Made More Strict, Less Strict, or Kept as They Are Now?

Today, Americans are as likely to say the laws governing gun sales should be kept as they are now (43%) as to say they should be made more strict. Until this year, Gallup had always found a significantly higher percentage advocating stricter laws. At the same time, 12% of Americans believe the laws should be less strict, which is low in an absolute sense but ties the highest Gallup has measured for this response.

These results are based on Gallup's annual Crime Poll, conducted Oct.1-4 this year.

"Compared with views in 2000, each major demographic or attitudinal subgroup has shown a shift toward a more pro-gun stance on the question about whether gun laws should be more strict or less strict."

The poll also shows a new low in the percentage of Americans favoring a ban on handgun possession except by the police and other authorized persons, a question that dates back to 1959. Only 28% now favor such a ban. The high point in support for a handgun-possession ban was 60% in the initial measurement in 1959. Since then, less than a majority has been in favor, and support has been below 40% since December 1993.

Do You Think There Should or Should Not Be a Law That Would Ban the Possession of Handguns, Except by the Police and Other Authorized Persons?

The trends on the questions about gun-sale laws and a handgun-possession ban indicate that Americans' attitudes have moved toward being more pro-gun rights. But this is not due to a growth in personal gun ownership, which has held steady around 30% this decade, or to an increase in household gun ownership, which has been steady in the low 40% range since 2000.

Gun Ownership in the United States, Individuals and Households

Nor are more pro-gun attitudes a specific reaction to the election of a Democratic president, Barack Obama, whose support for gun rights is questioned at times. Though the trends on both the gun-sales and the gun-possession measures have moved in a slightly more pro-gun direction this year compared to last, both trends had been moving in that direction during the latter part of the Bush administration, which strongly supported gun rights.

Rather, Americans as a whole may just be more accepting of gun rights now than in the past. Compared with views in 2000, each major demographic or attitudinal subgroup has shown a shift toward a more pro-gun stance on the question about whether gun laws should be more strict or less strict. (The results are similar on the question of a ban on handgun possession, with nearly every major demographic group less supportive of a ban now than at the start of the decade.)

Percentage Believing Gun Laws Should Be More Strict, by Subgroup, 2000 and 2009 Gallup Polls

Even with the change, there are some subgroups among whom a majority continues to favor stricter gun laws, including liberals (67%), Democrats (66%), Easterners (59%), gun non-owners (57%), postgraduates (55%), women (55%), and nonwhites (51%).

The groups least in favor of stricter gun laws are gun owners (20%), Republicans (28%), conservatives (30%), and men (33%).

Bottom Line

Americans continue to trend toward holding attitudes that are more in favor of gun rights, and Gallup today finds new low points in favor of gun control on two separate measures dating back at least two decades. While solidly against a ban on handgun possession, Americans are nonetheless about equally likely to say they favor stricter laws on firearm sales as to say these laws should not change. Still, the current poll marks the first time Gallup has not found a significantly higher proportion of Americans preferring tighter gun-sale regulations.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,013 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 1-4, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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