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Support for Stricter U.S. Gun Laws at Lowest Level Since 2016

MEGAN BRENAN - Gallup  | Published on 1/12/2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the absence of a high-profile mass shooting in the U.S. in 2020 and amid the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest related to racial justice issues and the contentious presidential election campaign, Americans are less likely than they have been since 2016 to call for increased gun control. The latest majority (57%) in the U.S. who call for stricter laws covering the sale of firearms marks a seven-percentage-point decline since last year. At the same time, 34% of U.S. adults prefer that gun laws be kept as they are now, while 9% would like them to be less strict.

Line graph. Percentages of Americans since 1990 who want the laws covering the sale of firearms to be more strict, less strict or kept as they are now. The latest data find a seven-point decline in the percentage of U.S. adults (to 57%) who want stricter laws, 34% who want them kept as they are and 9% less strict. The highest percentage for those supporting stricter laws was 78% in 1990.

Gallup has been tracking the public's views on this measure since 1990, when a record-high 78% of Americans supported stricter laws for gun sales as the nation's crime rate was rising. A majority of Americans held that position until 2008. Support then fell to a low of 43% in 2011, when an equal number said gun laws should be kept as is, but calls for stricter laws increased sharply to 58% in 2012 after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Since the early 1990s, Americans' preferences for tougher gun control have generally peaked in the wake of prominent mass shootings and waned as the memory of each fades. A recent example was the 2018 school massacre in Parkland, Florida, after which support for increased gun control hit 67%. Support remained near that level last year in two readings taken after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, on consecutive days in August.

Americans' Preferences for Gun Control Vary by Demographic Group

There are sharp differences in views of gun control within a number of key demographic groups in the latest findings from Gallup's annual Crime poll, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 15. Majorities of women, Democrats, independents, those who do not own guns, residents of the Eastern and Western U.S., and city and suburban residents all support stricter gun laws. At the same time, these groups' counterparts are more supportive of keeping gun laws as they are now or making them less strict.

Americans' Preferences for Gun Laws, by Demographic Groups
In general, do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are now?
More strict Less strict Kept as now
% % %
Gender
Men 46 15 39
Women 67 4 29
Party identification
Republicans 22 16 62
Independents 60 11 28
Democrats 85 2 13
Gun ownership
Gun owners 26 17 57
Not a gun owner 72 5 22
Region
East 68 10 22
Midwest 50 9 40
South 49 6 45
West 63 14 23
Urbanicity
City residents 65 6 29
Suburban residents 58 9 33
Rural residents 46 15 39
GALLUP, SEPT. 30-OCT. 15, 2020

Among these groups, the largest gap in support for more stringent gun laws is for partisans. The current 22% of Republicans favoring stricter laws for gun sales is the lowest for the group over the past 20 years and represents a 14-point drop since 2019. Meanwhile, the percentages of Democrats and independents calling for more gun control are near the highest recorded by Gallup since 2000. The 63-point gap between Republicans and Democrats is the highest on record over the past two decades.

Line graph. Percentages of Republicans, Democrats and independents who want the laws covering the sale of firearms to be more strict, since 2001. The latest data find 85% of Democrats, 60% of independents and 22% of Republicans want stricter laws. This is the lowest reading for Republicans in the trend.

Support for Handgun Ban Remains Weak

Americans' support for a ban on the possession of handguns, at 25%, is near the lowest on record in Gallup's 40-year trend. The latest reading, which is down 18 points from its 1991 high, is a slight decline from last year's 29%. Currently, 74% of U.S. adults say such a ban should not be put in place.

Line graph. Percentage of Americans who think there should be a ban on the possession of handguns except by the police and other authorized persons, since 1980. The latest finding, 25%, is near the record low of 23% in 2016.

While there is a 31-point gap between the views of Republicans and Democrats on this measure, less than half of Democrats (41%) support a handgun ban.

Gallup's update of gun ownership in the same poll finds essentially no change in the trend from recent years. The 32% saying they personally own a gun is up slightly, but not statistically significantly, from the 30% average rate of personal gun ownership from 2017-2019.

This may seem contrary to recent news that an estimated 5 million Americans have become new gun owners thus far in 2020 amid surging gun sales; however, that number represents about 2% of the U.S. adult public, which is not enough to detect in a poll of roughly 1,000 U.S. respondents, with the standard 4-percentage-point margin of sampling error. Gallup will be looking at whether today's slightly higher rates continue in future measurements.

Bottom Line

In a year that has seen record-high gun sales, Americans' appetite for gun control is the lowest it has been since 2016, before mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Parkland, Florida. There has not been a major mass shooting in the U.S. since mid-2019 -- which may explain the decline in support for stricter gun laws, given that the trend on this measure has shown that such events tend to drive public opinion. In addition, there has been a sharp drop in Republicans' support for stricter gun laws over the past year as the nation has dealt with the pandemic, civil unrest and the presidential election.