- 56% want stricter laws; 31% kept as they are now
- Americans believe guns make homes safer rather than more dangerous
- Steady 44% live in gun households
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup’s latest update on Americans’ opinions on gun laws finds a majority continuing to favor strengthening those laws. Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults say gun laws should be stricter, while 31% believe they should be kept as they are now and 12% favor less strict gun laws.
These attitudes, collected before last week’s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, are unchanged from a year ago, but they reflect less support for stricter laws than in June 2022 (66%) after the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting.
Majorities have consistently favored stricter gun laws since 2015, with notable spikes in that view after prominent shootings such as in Uvalde and Parkland, Florida, in 2018.
Gallup first asked Americans about their preferences for gun laws using the current wording in 1990. Since then, majorities have typically called for stricter laws, including a high of 78% in the initial September 1990 measurement amid heightened concern about crime and ongoing congressional debate over the Brady Bill handgun legislation, which ultimately passed in 1993.
The exceptions to majority-level support for stricter laws occurred between 2008 and 2014, when between 43% and 49% favored tougher laws, with that trend temporarily interrupted by a December 2012 58% reading conducted shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The pattern of increased support for stricter gun laws after prominent shootings suggests that a higher proportion than the 56% measured in the Oct. 2-23 poll would favor tougher laws if measured today in the wake of the Oct. 25 Lewiston shootings. An Army reservist killed 18 people in shootings at two locations in the Maine town.
Americans Do Not Favor Handgun Ban
While Americans do want gun laws tightened, they also do not favor a ban on handguns for ordinary citizens, something Gallup has asked about since 1959. Just 27% of U.S. adults believe that no one outside of police or other authorized persons should be able to possess a handgun.
The current figure is on the lower end of what Gallup has measured historically, including 60% who favored a ban in 1959 and roughly four in 10 Americans in most surveys conducted between 1975 and 1993. The low point of 19% favoring a ban came in an October 2021 survey.
Americans See Guns as Enhancing Home Safety
Opposition to a handgun ban is consistent with Americans’ belief that having guns makes people’s homes safer rather than more dangerous. Currently, 64% believe guns make homes safer, while 32% believe they make them more dangerous.
Public opinion on this issue has shifted over time. When Gallup first asked this version of the question in 2000, a slim majority of 51% believed guns made homes more dangerous places to live. Americans’ views were evenly divided in 2004 and 2006, but by 2014, the majority had come to believe that guns made homes safer. Opinions have held steady since then.
As might be expected, the overwhelming majority of those with a gun in their household, 86%, believe guns make homes safer; just 12% disagree. Among those living in households without guns, opinion is divided -- 45% believe they are safer and 49% more dangerous places to live with guns present.
Partisans Diverge on Gun Attitudes
Democrats overwhelmingly believe gun laws should be made stricter and believe guns make homes more dangerous. They are also much more likely than Republicans to favor a handgun ban. In contrast, Republicans generally want gun laws kept as they are now and believe guns make homes safer.
Independents side with Democrats on wanting stricter gun laws, but they are closer to Republicans in believing guns increase home safety rather than decrease it.
Today’s partisan differences on guns contrast with relatively modest gaps two decades ago.
- In 2001, 61% of Democrats and 44% of Republicans wanted gun laws to be stricter. Since then, there has been a 27-percentage-point increase in the percentage of Democrats favoring stricter laws and an 18-point decrease among Republicans. Independents’ views haven’t changed.
- Compared with 2000, the percentage of Republicans in favor of a handgun ban has fallen 19 points. Democrats’ and independents’ views on this issue are generally similar to what they were in 2000.
- The percentage of Republicans who think guns make homes safer has nearly doubled since 2000, from 44% to 86%. Independents also show a large shift in the same direction, from 36% in 2000 to 66%. Democrats are slightly more likely today (37%) than in 2000 (28%) to think guns make homes safer.
Gun Ownership Steady
Forty-four percent of U.S. adults say they have a gun in their home or on their property, with 30% saying the gun belongs to them personally and the remainder saying it belongs to another household member. These percentages are steady compared with recent years, although Gallup measured higher rates of household gun possession, between 50% and 53%, in the early 1990s.
Gun ownership rates have increased among Republicans over the past two decades -- 45% of Republicans say they personally own a gun, and 58% live in a gun household. In 2000, the figures were 32% and 48%, respectively.
Among independents, ownership rates are similar to what they were in 2000, with 29% personally owning a gun and 43% living in a gun household.
Democratic gun ownership has declined slightly. Now, 18% of Democrats say they personally own a gun, and 29% live in a gun household, compared with 23% and 36%, respectively, in 2000.
Number of Guns in U.S. May Be Increasing
The new poll confirms prior years’ finding that U.S. gun owners typically have more than one gun. Currently, 29% of Americans who have a gun in their household report having one gun, while 33% say they have between two and four guns and 22% have five or more. Sixteen percent of respondents from gun households would not disclose how many guns they own.
On seven other occasions since 1993, Gallup has asked those with guns to say how many guns their household owns. In each of those surveys, majorities of 59% or greater have said their household had multiple guns.
But gun owners may now be owning more total guns than in the past. U.S. adults with a gun in their household say their house has an average of 4.9 guns. In prior surveys, the average number of guns owned ranged between 4.0 and 4.5. However, because of smaller sample sizes of gun owners in each survey and a large variation in the reported number of guns, the current estimate is not significantly higher than past measures from a statistical perspective.
The gun issue has played a major role in U.S. political debate in recent years, and each mass shooting, such as the one that occurred in Maine last week, returns the issue to the forefront. Though the two major U.S. political parties are increasingly divided on the issue, Americans as a whole have been largely consistent in wanting gun laws to be stricter but also opposing a handgun ban. Their views on whether guns make homes safer or more dangerous have shifted, with a solid majority now believing guns make homes safer.
Last year, in response to the Uvalde shooting, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed into law bipartisan legislation designed to address gun violence, which was hailed as the first major federal legislation on the issue in decades. The legislation expanded background checks on gun purchases for young adults, increased mental health funding, expanded prohibitions on gun ownership for people convicted of domestic violence, and created incentives for states to pass “red flag” laws.
However, Americans apparently did not see those steps as going far enough to prevent gun violence, with no decrease since the law was signed in the percentage wanting laws to be tougher. That could reflect that Americans favor a number of proposals that have been offered as antidotes to gun violence -- including longer waiting periods for gun purchases and an assault weapons ban -- that were not included in the legislation.
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