Social Issues

Americans' Desire for Stricter Gun Laws Up Sharply

by Art Swift

Story Highlights

  • 55% say laws on gun sales should be more strict than they are now
  • Majority do not favor a ban on handguns for average Americans
  • 43% in U.S. have a gun in their house or on their property

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fifty-five percent of Americans say they want laws covering the sale of firearms to be stricter than they are now, a distinct rise of eight percentage points from 2014. Fewer Americans than last year want the laws to be less strict, and the proportion who want the laws to stay the same has also declined slightly.

Laws Covering the Sale of Firearms -- Americans' Preferences Since 2000

In 2007, the year of the Virginia Tech massacre, the percentage of Americans who favored stricter laws on gun sales dropped to a bare majority (51%) for the first time in several years. Since then, support for stricter laws had stayed under 50%, except in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. At that point, 58% of Americans said they were in favor of stricter laws on gun sales. Although support for stricter laws receded after those shootings, in which a young man fatally shot 20 children and six adults, it has yet to return to the 44% level it was at before that tragedy.

Americans' Views on Gun-Sales Laws

The latest increase, from the Gallup Crime poll conducted Oct. 7-11, came in the days after the most recent high-profile mass shooting, at a community college in Oregon. However, that event seems to have mainly affected Americans' views about laws on gun sales, but not other topics relating to guns.

Independents, Democrats Fueling Trend for Stricter Gun Laws

The rise in the proportion of Americans who want stricter laws on firearm sales can be attributed partly to an increase among certain demographic groups. Support rose among Democrats and especially independents from 2014, and among those who do not personally own a gun. However, support increased even among those who say they own a handgun, from 30% in 2014 to 36% this year.

Views on Laws Regarding Gun Sales, by Selected Demographic Group

Civilian Handgun Possession Should Not Be Banned, Americans Say

The percentage of Americans who favor a law providing that only authorized persons (including the police) would be allowed to possess handguns has remained low since the 1990s. This year, 27% -- near the record low -- say there should be this type of ban. This trend has been generally declining since Gallup began asking this question in 1959, when 60% said such a law should exist.

Support for Ban on Possession of Handguns, 1959-2015

In 2015, guns are a part of the fabric of American life and much of its discourse. Overall in the U.S., 43% say they have a gun somewhere in their household, and 28% say they personally own a gun.

Bottom Line

In a maelstrom of debate about guns, Americans have clear-cut views of at least some aspects of the debate. A majority in 2015 say gun sales should be regulated more strictly than they are now, which represents an uptick from last fall; however, it is still slightly lower than in December 2012, immediately after the Newtown school shootings.

But with mass shootings and individual homicides occurring with regularity, the debate will continue over whether there should be restrictions or amendments to firearms purchases or possession. Last week, California's Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will introduce a state ballot measure for next year that would require ammunition buyers to undergo background checks. President Barack Obama also said he may use executive authority to impose background checks for those purchasing weapons from high-volume firearms dealers.

These are just two examples of initiatives that may or may not gain traction with a public that is disturbed about mass shootings, but evidently divided about how to solve this persistent problem in the 2010s.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 7-11, 2015, with a random sample of 1,015 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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