CHICAGO (AP) — Most U.S. adults believe gun violence is on the rise nationwide and want to see gun laws tightened, according to a new poll that finds broad public support for a variety of gun restrictions. including many supported by majority Republicans and gun owners.
The poll by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research also shows that a majority of US adults view both reducing gun violence and protecting gun ownership as important issues.
The poll was conducted between July 28 and August 1, following a series of deadly mass shootings — from a New York grocery store to a school in Texas and a Fourth of July parade in Illinois — and a spike in gun murders in 2020 that have raise awareness of the issue of gun violence. Overall, 8 in 10 Americans perceive gun violence to be increasing nationwide, and about two-thirds say it is increasing in their state, though fewer than half believe it is increasing in their community, the poll shows.
The question of how to prevent such violence has long divided politicians and many voters, making it difficult to change gun laws. In June, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court expanded gun rights, finding a constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense.
Later that month, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan gun safety bill into law. The package, passed in the wake of shootings like the one that killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, was both a measured compromise and the most important bill to tackle gun violence passed in Congress in decades — a sign of how the matter has become difficult.
The poll found that 71 percent of Americans say gun laws should be tightened, including about half of Republicans, the vast majority of Democrats and a majority of those in households that own guns.
Nicole Whitelaw, 29, is a Democrat and gun owner who grew up hunting and shooting in upstate New York with her staunchly Republican family. Whitelaw, who now lives along Florida’s Gulf Coast, supports some gun restrictions, including a ban on people with domestic violence convictions from owning firearms and a federal law preventing the mentally ill from buying arms.
He said other restrictions — such as banning sales of AR-15 rifles — “go too far” and may not solve the problem. Whitelaw pointed to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people bought all the toilet paper they could find.
“I think people would start trying to stockpile weapons,” he said, adding that a better approach is to make smaller changes and see what impact they have.
The poll shows bipartisan majorities of Americans support a national policy of background checks for all gun sales, a law that prevents mentally ill people from buying guns by allowing courts to temporarily bar people deemed a danger to themselves or others from to buy a gun, making 21 the minimum age to buy a gun across the country and prohibiting those with domestic violence convictions from buying a gun.
A smaller majority of Americans — 59 percent — favors banning the sale of AR-15 rifles and similar semi-automatic weapons, with Democrats more supportive of the policy than Republicans, 83 percent to 35 percent.
Chris Boylan, 47, of Indianapolis, opposes gun restrictions. As a longtime teacher, Boylan said he has “buried more kids than I care to count” and believes gun violence is a major problem. But the Republican, who said he leans more toward Libertarian in his personal positions, believes the issue is more about mental health and an overly lenient criminal justice system.
“Blaming the gun is an oversimplification of what the issues really are,” Boylan said. “It’s not the gun. It’s a matter of heart and mind for me.”
The new poll finds that 88% of Americans call preventing mass shootings extremely or very important, and nearly as many say so about reducing gun violence in general. But 60% also say it is very important to ensure people can own guns for personal protection.
Overall, 52% of Americans — including 65% of Republicans and 39% of Democrats — say both reducing mass shootings and protecting the right to own guns for personal protection are extremely important.
University of Chicago professor Jens Ludwig said the poll’s findings show that concerns raised by opponents of gun restrictions are “very unfounded.” Led by the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby argues that any new restrictions on who can own a gun or the type of firearms that can be sold would lead to nationwide bans on all guns and ammunition.
The poll showed that most Americans’ views are more nuanced, and there is support for some changes even among Republicans, who as elected officials typically oppose gun control, said Ludwig, who is also director of the university’s Crime Lab of Chicago.
“It should close the door on some of the ‘slippery slope’ arguments,” he said.
The poll also found that only about 3 in 10 Americans support a law allowing people to carry guns in public without a permit. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats oppose it. Among Republicans, 47% are in favor and 39% are against.
Ervin Leach, 66, who lives in Troutman, North Carolina, north of Charlotte, believes gun violence is a major problem and says the laws need to be much stricter. A Democrat, Leach said he supports measures such as background checks — or what he said should be “in-depth studies” — and a minimum age of 21 to buy a gun.
The poll found that 1 in 5 people have experienced gun violence themselves in the past five years, such as being threatened with a gun or being the victim of a shooting, or having a close friend or family member. Black and Hispanic Americans are especially likely to say they or someone close to them has experienced gun violence.
Leach, who is Black, said the gun violence he sees in the news has made him more cautious.
“I don’t like people approaching me,” he said. “In the old days, if someone was on the side of the road, you would stop to help. Now, you go to help someone, you might lose your life.”
All the murders made Leach consider buying a gun for his own protection. Although he hasn’t had a chance to get his gun license yet, he said, “That’s my intention.”
AP Polling reporter Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.
The poll of 1,373 adults was conducted from July 28-Aug. 1 using a sample derived from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.