PRINCETON, NJ -- For the second year in a row, a record-low 44% of Americans say laws governing the sale of firearms should be made more strict, while 42% say gun laws should be kept as they are now. Twelve percent say gun laws should be made less strict.
Americans' support for stricter gun control laws has gradually declined over the last two decades, from 78% when this question was first asked in 1990 to 49% in 2008, and 44% in 2009 and again this year. As support for stricter gun laws has decreased, support for keeping gun laws as they are now has increased, from 17% in 1990 to 42% now. The percentage of Americans favoring less strict gun control laws has remained relatively stable over the last 20 years, and is now at 12%.
These results are based on Gallup's annual Crime Poll, conducted Oct. 7-10 this year.
Americans are also less likely to say there should be a law banning the possession of handguns except by the police and other authorized persons. The current 29% who favor such a law is within one percentage point of the low of 28% recorded last year, down from 60% when Gallup first asked this question in 1959 -- the only time when a majority favored such a ban. Support has been below 40% every year since 1993.
Democrats, Liberals Most in Favor of Stricter Gun Laws
The most significant differences in support for stricter gun laws are along political lines. More than 6 in 10 Democrats and liberals favor stricter gun laws -- compared with 31% and 26% among conservatives and Republicans, respectively.
Other groups expressing greater-than-average support for stricter gun laws include women, those living in the East, nonwhites, those with postgraduate educations, and those living in households without guns.
Americans are holding firm to their record-low level of support for making gun laws stricter, with virtually no change from last year. Additionally, less than a third of Americans support a law banning possession of handguns for individuals beyond police and other authorized persons -- similar to the record-low levels of support for this type of law found over the past three years.
Gallup research last year showed that more than 4 in 10 Americans believed President Obama was planning to ban the sale of guns in the U.S. While this perception may be part of the explanation for the increased support among Americans for keeping gun laws as they are, the trend away from support for increased gun control was evident long before Obama appeared on the political scene.
The drop in support for stricter gun laws does not appear to be related to perceptions of the crime situation in the U.S. Americans' views that crime was increasing did abate in Gallup's 1990 through 2002 research, even as Americans became less likely to support stricter gun control laws. But that pattern reversed itself thereafter, reaching a recent high of 74% in 2008 -- while support for stricter gun laws fell to its record low point.
Only 1% of Americans mention gun control as America's most important problem at this time, and even fewer mention crime. Thus, although there is majority support for stricter gun laws among both Democrats and liberals, it appears that there will not be pressure to make this a high-priority issue for the leaders of these political groups in the months ahead. The political agenda is instead likely to focus mainly on the economy and jobs, the issues that Americans overwhelmingly perceive as the top problems facing the country.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 7-10, 2010, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
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 landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.