To compare public support for 24 different gun policies between gun owners and non–gun owners in 2017.
We fielded a national public opinion survey in January 2017 using an online panel to measure US adults’ support for 24 gun policies. We compared support among gun owners and non–gun owners.
For 23 of the 24 policies examined, most respondents supported restricting or regulating gun ownership. Only 8 of 24 policies had greater than a 10-point support gap between gun owners and non–gun owners.
Policies with high public support and minimal support gaps by gun ownership status included universal background checks, greater accountability for licensed gun dealers unable to account for their inventory, higher safety training standards for concealed carry permit holders, improved reporting of records related to mental illness for background checks, gun prohibitions for persons subject to temporary domestic violence restraining orders, and gun violence restraining orders.
Public Health Implications
Although there are important areas where Americans disagree on guns, large majorities of both gun owners and non–gun owners strongly support measures to strengthen US gun laws.
The 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School catalyzed a national dialogue about firearm policy. In the intervening years, thousands of lives have been lost to mass shootings in the United States; firearms were responsible for 38 658 deaths in 2016 alone.1 Following the 2017 and 2018 mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sutherland Springs, Texas; and Parkland, Florida, one prominent message in the US news headlines has been the deep divide among Americans on gun policy.2 Media reports such as this described a chasm separating gun owners from non–gun owners: 1 headline described a staggering gap that made abortion look like an issue with a minor divide. The perception that the public is deeply divided by gun ownership status has been characterized as a stumbling block to the passage of policies to reduce gun violence.
To understand the nature of the partisan divide, we fielded a national survey assessing Americans’ attitudes about 24 different policies to reduce gun violence in 2017 and measured the size of the gaps in support between gun owners and non–gun owners. In this study, we have updated what was known about public opinion, by gun ownership status, directly following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary3 and 2 years later in 2015,4 and examined a broader set of policy options than has been studied elsewhere.5 In the context of renewed interest in policy action following the Parkland tragedy, our intent was to identify policies with the highest overall public support levels and the smallest partisan gaps for consideration.