73% Favor Some Restrictions on Firearms Sales/Ownership; 16% Favor No Limitations

Majorities "strongly support" background checks for all firearm and ammunition sales - including online and gun show purchases

Jan 13, 2016, 05:05 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Jan. 13, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- U.S. Adults across political lines agree that Americans should be entitled to purchase and/or own firearms, but they also agree that some level of restriction is reasonable:

  • Over seven in ten Americans (73%) – including two-thirds of Republicans (68%) and three-fourths of Democrats and Independents (75% each) believe Americans should be allowed to purchase and/or own firearms, with some restrictions.
    • Two-thirds (68%) of those with at least one firearm in their household also agree with this.
  • Only 16% believe Americans should be allowed to do so without limitation, including a quarter (24%) of Republicans, about one in ten Democrats (9%), and 16% of Independents.
  • Fewer still, roughly one in ten (9%), believe Americans should not be allowed to purchase and/or own firearms, including 7% of Republicans, 15% of Democrats and 9% of Independents.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,252 adults surveyed online between December 9 and 14, 2015. Interviews were conducted prior to President Obama's recent series of executive actions on firearms. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

Supporting safety

When presented with a list of measures related to firearm purchases and ownership and asked how strongly they would support or oppose each, majorities support each of the measures tested.

  • Vast majorities support background checks for all firearm (90%) and ammunition (77%) sales – including those conducted online or at gun shows.
    • More specifically, nearly seven in ten strongly support such checks for firearm sales (69%) while nearly six in ten say the same for ammunition sales (58%).
  • Nearly nine in ten (88%) support requiring that all buyers pass a firearm safety class, including six in ten (61%) strongly supporting this.
  • Over eight in ten (82%) support requiring owners to use a lock or safe for storage when firearms are not in use; nearly six in ten (58%) strongly support this.
  • Seven in ten (71%) support establishing a national registry of firearm owners; half (50%) strongly support such an initiative.
  • Roughly two-thirds support outlawing fully automatic firearms (66%) and limiting magazine sizes (also 66%); 45% and 40%, respectively, strongly support these.
  • A slimmer majority (55%) – though a majority nonetheless – support limiting the number of firearms an individual can own (34% strongly so).

It's worth noting that, with the exception of limiting the number of firearms an individual can own, majorities across party, generation and gender lines agree with all these measures; the same is true among those with at least one firearm in their home.

Though Americans support these safety initiatives that focus responsibility on the owners and sellers, fewer see gun manufacturers as sharing responsibility: fewer than four in ten (38%) agree that manufacturers should hold some degree of responsibility when their products are used to commit a crime.

  • It's worth noting that a majority of Democrats (56%) agree that manufacturers should be at least partly responsible, while three in ten Independents (31%) and a quarter of Republicans (25%) feel this way.

Attitudes toward gun control

A 49% plurality of Americans favors stricter gun control, with 22% favor less strict gun control and 21% say it should neither be tightened nor loosened.

Support for stricter gun control has been in decline for years: 69% supported stricter gun control in 1998, ebbing gradually to 45% in 2010. 2014 saw the first growth on record, to 51%, but the most recent data's slight drop to 49% indicate that this may have been only a temporary change in trajectory.

  • Three-fourths of Democrats favor stricter gun control (74%); nearly half (47%) of Independents agree, but only 26% of Republicans.
  • Just under three in ten Republicans (28%) and roughly a quarter of Independents (24%) feel it should be neither stricter nor less strict; roughly one in ten Democrats indicate the same.
  • Meanwhile, a 36% plurality of Republicans supports less strict gun control (as do 22% of Independents and 10% of Democrats).
    • This marks a considerable shift from 2014, when Republicans were split evenly between feeling gun control should be stricter, should be less strict, or should remain the same (30% each).
  • Forty-nine percent (49%) of Americans also feel laws relating specifically to the control of hand guns should be stricter, while 22% say they should be less strict and 21% say neither.

Election issue?

Three-fourths (74%) of Americans agree – 34% strongly so – that Presidential candidates' positions on firearms will be an important factor in who they vote for. Though this point of view spans the political spectrum, it's reasonable to expect that which specific views they're looking for a candidate to support will vary by party.

Good guys with guns

Looking to NRA Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre's oft-echoed statement, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" – Six in ten Americans (61%) agree with this sentiment, including eight in ten (80%) Republicans. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Independents and 44% of Democrats also agree.

To see other recent Harris Polls, please visit us at TheHarrisPoll.com.

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This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between December 9 and 14, 2015 among ,2252 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #2, January 13, 2016
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. For more information, or to see other recent polls, please visit our new website, TheHarrisPoll.com.

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SOURCE The Harris Poll