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U.S. Remains Divided Over Passing Stricter Gun Laws

U.S. Remains Divided Over Passing Stricter Gun Laws

Opposition to banning handgun ownership remains at record-high 74%

PRINCETON, NJ -- Nearly a year after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings spawned considerable U.S. debate about passing stricter gun control laws, almost half of Americans believe the laws covering the sale of firearms should be strengthened and half say they should stay the same or be less strict.

Americans' Preferences for Laws on the Sale of Firearms -- Trend Since 2000

Public support for stricter gun laws is down from 58% in the days after the December 2012 Newtown shootings, and is lower than it was from 2000 through 2006, when, for the most part, solid majorities of Americans favored such laws. However, it remains slightly higher than from 2009 to 2011, when support for stricter laws fell to record lows of 44% and 43%. Gallup's full trend, dating to 1990, can be found on page 2.

The current results, based on an Oct. 3-6 Gallup poll conducted prior to a recent school shooting in Nevada, are unchanged from what Gallup found in September.

Americans Broadly Oppose Banning Handguns

The new poll also finds public opposition to banning handgun ownership holding at a record-high 74%, identical to a year ago. One in four Americans think the law should limit possession to police and other authorized persons.

Recent attitudes on this are markedly different from the 1980s, when barely half of Americans opposed a ban on civilian handgun ownership. It is also a major turnaround from a half century ago, when only 36% opposed such a ban. Opposition to banning citizens' possession of handguns mounted in the 1990s and 2000s, and first crossed the 70% threshold in 2009.

Support for Ban on Possession of Handguns, 1959-2013



Popular demand for tightening legal controls on gun sales varies most by political orientation, with Democrats broadly in favor of stricter gun laws and more than a third in favor of banning handguns. Less than a quarter of Republicans support either measure. Similarly, support among liberals for both policies is about double that of conservatives. There are also some demographic differences, particularly by gender and race, that align with these groups' political leanings.

Summary of Support for More Gun Control, by Demographics, October 2013

Bottom Line

President Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress have thus far failed to reach a compromise on gun control measures designed to help prevent mass shootings in the U.S. And although Obama renewed his call for congressional action to address federal gun laws after the Washington Navy Yard massacre in September, it is unlikely the Republicans in Congress will comply. Aside from any personal or political reasons they may have for blocking gun control, public demand for it has waned.

Numerous mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. in the past decade. However, during this time, aside from the passing surge of support for stricter gun laws after the Newtown shootings, Americans' support for gun control has tapered.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 3-6, 2013, with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

Long-Term Trend: Preferences for Changing the Laws on the Sale of Firearms

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