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Social & Policy Issues
Less Than Half of Americans Support Stricter Gun Laws
Social & Policy Issues

Less Than Half of Americans Support Stricter Gun Laws

by Art Swift

Story Highlights

  • Two years after Newtown, 47% favor stricter gun sale laws
  • Near-record high say U.S. should not ban handgun possession
  • Democrats most likely to favor stricter gun sale laws

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Less than half of Americans, 47%, say they favor stricter laws covering the sale of firearms, similar to views found last year. But this percentage is significantly below the 58% recorded in 2012 after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, spurred a nationwide debate about the possibility of more stringent gun control laws. Thirty-eight percent of Americans say these laws should be kept as they are now, and 14% say they should be made less strict.

Laws Covering the Sale of Firearms -- Americans' Preferences Since 2000

The percentage favoring stricter gun sale laws in the two years since Newtown occurred has declined despite steady and tragic high-profile shootings in the U.S at schools, malls and businesses. This past week, shootings occurred at a Seattle-area school and of police officers in Sacramento and Placer County, California. Amidst events like these in 2014, and the resulting calls for stricter gun sale laws, the 47% who favor stricter laws is just above the historical low of 43% measured in 2011.

Ten years ago, three in five Americans (60%) said they favored stricter laws regulating the sale of firearms, but support fell to 44% in 2009 and remained at that level in polls conducted in the next two years. Days after the Newtown shooting, support for stricter gun sale laws swelled. Since 2012, however, Americans have retreated from those stronger attitudes about the need for more gun control, and the percentage of Americans who say the laws should be less strict -- although still low -- has edged up.

These findings come from a new Gallup Poll Social Series survey, conducted Oct. 12-15.

Americans Say Possessing Handguns Should Not Be Banned

As support for stricter laws regulating the sale of guns has dwindled, the percentage of Americans who say handguns should be banned has remained low. About one in four Americans say handgun possession should be banned for everyone except the police and "other authorized persons" such as security or the military. A near-record high of 73% of Americans now say that handguns should not be banned.

Support for Ban on Possession of Handguns, 1959-2014

While Americans overwhelmingly say that there should not be a ban on handguns, this has not always been the case. When Gallup first asked this question in 1959, 60% favored a ban on handguns, except for those carried by police officers and similar authorities. By 1975, that number had slipped to 41%, with 55% saying they opposed such a ban. The percentage opposing has stayed above 50% ever since.

Support for Stricter Gun Sale Laws Drops Across Most Groups

Americans vary by demographic group as to whether they favor more stringent laws covering the sale of firearms. Among these groups, support is generally down across the board compared with the poll taken after the Newtown tragedy.

Democrats still express the most support for stricter gun sale laws, at 71%, down from 79% two years ago. Republicans, liberals, nonwhites, women and whites all show substantially less support on this measure compared with 2012.

Views on Gun Sale Laws, by Demographic Group

Bottom Line

Public demand for stricter gun sale laws is returning to levels seen throughout the past decade. After seeing a spike in support for stricter laws following the Newtown school shooting in 2012, the call for more stringent laws has settled to near-record lows. The percentage of Americans who say that handguns should not be banned is at a near-record high as well. This suggests that while shootings may still occur with disturbing regularity in the U.S., there is a disconnect between those events and support for making gun laws stricter.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 12-15, 2014, with a random sample of 1,017 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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