Sniper Attacks Have Little Impact on Public Attitudes About Guns

by Lydia Saad

But confidence in police effectiveness slips

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The ongoing sniper rampage outside of Washington D.C. has dominated news coverage across America since the first deadly shooting spree on Oct. 3, and has perhaps exposed the limits of law enforcement to the public in a stark new way. However, despite the frightful nature of these events, and the fact that the sniper (or snipers) remains at large, a Gallup Poll conducted Oct. 14-17, finds no evident change in public attitudes about gun ownership.

According to police reports, the recent shootings of 13 people, which have killed 10, have all occurred with single shots from a high-powered rifle. Whether the person or people responsible came by the weapon legally is of course not known.

The new Gallup survey finds that Americans are closely divided, as they were a year ago, over whether or not the laws covering the sale of firearms should be stricter. There has also been no change in the percentage of Americans claiming to purchase guns for their own security. What has changed is public confidence in the police. Although a majority of Americans continue to express high confidence in the police to protect them from violent crime, this figure is down somewhat compared to October 2001.

Details

  • Public attitudes today about the strength of gun laws are almost exactly the same as they were a year ago, in October 2001. A bare majority of Americans, 51%, believe the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict. Roughly one-third (36%) say the laws should remain the same, while about one in 10 (11%) would like to see them less strict.
Gun Law Preference
  • The percentage of Americans favoring a ban on civilian possession of handguns has been fairly stable over the past several years, with between 32% and 38% favoring a ban and 59% to 65% opposing it. Current attitudes on this issue are 32% in favor and 65% opposed, fairly similar to the last measure in August 2000.
Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?
  • Gallup sees no change over the past year in the percentage of respondents saying there is a gun in their home. Forty-one percent of Americans currently report household gun ownership, about the same as the 40% recorded last year.
Do You Have a Gun in Your Home?
  • Gallup's 2001 crime survey came just a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an event that spawned much speculation and some anecdotal evidence about a surge in gun sales. But as the above chart shows, Americans' self-report of gun ownership held constant after Sept. 11, with just four in 10 Americans saying there was a gun in their home in October 2001, about the same as in August 2000.
  • Another possible explanation for various news reports of a surge in gun sales is that gun owners purchased more guns, as opposed to non-gun owners acquiring guns in their household for the first time. However, a Gallup question asking gun owners for the total number of guns kept in their house or on their property finds no significant increase in the number of guns possessed by current gun owners. About one-quarter say they own just one gun, close to half own between two and four guns, while another quarter own five or more. These figures are very similar to recent trends, from 1996 through 2000.
  • This finding of no increase in gun ownership, nationally, is confirmed by an additional Gallup Poll measure asking the public about changes in their use of guns for self-protection. The percentage of Americans today who say they have bought a gun to protect themselves or their home, or who say they carry a gun for defense purposes, has remained stable over the past three years. About one in five Americans each year tell Gallup that they have bought a gun for protection and about one in 10 says they carry a gun.
  • The public is expressing somewhat less confidence in the effectiveness of the police today than it did a year ago at this time. While a majority of Americans, 58%, say they have either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the police to protect them from violent crime, this figure is down eight points from the 66% recorded last year. This figure was 70% only three years ago.

What accounts for this recent decline in confidence in the police cannot be determined for certain. It seems likely that it is tied to the current sniper investigation, which has yet to stop the killer, and has apparently been unable to uncover significant clues about his identity. However, the decline could be a reflection of law enforcement efforts in the fight against terrorism over the past year, or any number of other events in the intervening period since the last measurement was taken.

Confidence in Police to Protect You From Violent Crime
  • According to the long-term trend in public confidence in police, law enforcement is currently held in greater esteem than it was during the 1980s and early 1990s when the rate of violent crime, nationally, was much higher than it is today. As the following chart shows, ratings of the police over the past two decades have closely tracked the violent crime rate.
Confidence in Police vs. Violent Crime Rate

Additional Key Points

  • There is a strong gender component to attitudes about gun laws (consistent with past polling), with women more in favor of strict gun laws than are men. A solid majority of women, 58%, currently say that gun laws should be made more strict, compared to 43% of men who hold this view. The plurality of men (46%) believe gun laws should remain as they are or become less strict.
  • Men are also more likely to say there is a gun in their household (50% of men vs. 33% of women), and are about 10 points more likely than women to say they have bought a gun for self-protection (27% vs. 16%).
  • There is a strong regional orientation to gun attitudes and ownership -- residents of the East in particular are the most supportive of stricter gun laws and the least likely to own a gun.

 

East

Midwest

South

West

Gun in household

29%

45

48

40

Gun laws: more strict

59%

49

47

49



Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,002 adults, 18 years and older, conducted Oct. 14-17, 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

How much confidence do you have in the ability of the police to protect you from violent crime -- a great deal, quite a lot, not very much, or none at all?

 

A great
deal

Quite
a lot

Not very
much

None
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 14-17

19

39

31

9

2

2001 Oct 11-14

25

41

27

6

1

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

20

42

31

6

1

1999 Mar 5-7

29

41

25

4

1

1998 Oct 23-25

19

36

37

8

*

1995 Sep 22-24

20

30

39

9

2

1993 Oct 13-18

14

31

45

9

1

1989 Jun 8-11

14

34

42

8

2

1985 Feb 28-Mar 1

15

37

39

6

3

1981 Jan 16-23

15

34

42

8

1



Next, I'm going to read some things people do because of their concern over crime. Please tell me which, if any, of these things you, yourself, do or have done. First, ... Next, ... [RANDOM ORDER]

Bought a gun for protection of yourself or your home

 

Yes

No

No opinion

2002 Oct 14-17

21%

78

1

2001 Oct 11-14

21%

78

1

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

22%

78

*



Carry a gun for defense

 

Yes

No

No opinion

2002 Oct 14-17

10%

89

1

2001 Oct 11-14

11%

89

*

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

12%

87

1



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

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 14-17

51

11

36

2

2001 Oct 11-14

53

8

38

1

2000 May 5-7

62

5

31

2

2000 Apr 7-9

61

7

30

2

1999 Dec 9-12

60

10

29

1

1999 Aug 3-4

66

6

27

1

1999 Jun 25-27

62

6

31

1

1999 May 23-24

65

5

28

2

1999 Apr 26-27

66

7

25

2

1999 Feb 8-9

60

9

29

2

1995 Apr 23-24 ^

62

12

24

2

1993 Dec 17-19

67

7

25

1

1993 Mar 12-14

70

4

24

2

1991 Mar 21-24

68

5

25

2

1990 Sep 10-11

78

2

17

3

^ Asked of half sample.



Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?

 

Should

Should not

No opinion

%

%

%

2002 Oct 14-17

32

65

3

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

36

62

2

1999 Apr 26-27

38

59

3

1999 Feb 8-9

34

64

2

1993 Dec 17-19

39

60

1

1993 Mar 12-14

42

54

4

1991 Mar 21-24

43

53

4

1990 Sep 10-11

41

55

4

1988 Jul 1-7

37

59

4

1987 Oct

42

50

8

1981 Jun

41

54

5

1981 Apr

39

58

3

1980 Dec

38

51

11

1980 Jan

31

65

4

1975

41

55

4

1965

49

44

7

1959

60

36

4



Do you have a gun in your home?

 

Yes

No

No opinion

%

%

%

2002 Oct 14-17

41

58

1

2001 Oct 11-14

40

59

1

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

39

60

1

2000 Apr 7-9

42

57

1

1999 Apr 26-27

34

64

2

1999 Feb 8-9

36

62

2

1997 Aug 22-25

42

57

1

1996 Nov 21-24

44

54

2

1996 Jul 25-28

38

60

2

1993 Dec 17-21

49

50

*

1993 Oct 13-18

51

48

1

1993 Mar 12-14

48

51

1

1991 May 16-19

46

53

1

1991 Mar 21-24

48

51

1

1990 Sep 10-11

47

52

1

1989 Feb 28-Mar 2

47

51

2

1985 Apr 12-15

44

55

1

1983 May 13-16

40

58

2

1980 Jan 2

45

53

2

1975 Oct 3-6

44

54

2

1972 May 23

43

55

2

1968

50

50

--

1965 Jan 7-12

48

52

--

1959 Jul 23-28

49

51

--



Do you have a gun anywhere else on your property such as in your garage, barn, shed or in your car or truck?

COMBINED RESPONSES

 

Gun in home

Gun elsewhere

No gun

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 14-17

41

3

55

1

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

39

2

58

1

1999 Feb 8-9

36

6

56

2

1996 Nov 21-24

44

1

53

2

1996 Jul 25-28

38

2

58

2

1993 Dec 17-21

49

5

45

*

1991 May 16-19

46

4

49

1



What is the total number of guns kept in your house or property?

BASED ON --435-- WHO HAVE A GUN IN THE HOME OR ON THE PROPERTY

 


1


2-4


5+

No opinion


Mean


Median

%

%

%

%

2002 Oct 14-17

23

45

24

8

4.0

3.0

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

28

41

21

10

4.1

2.0

1999 Feb 8-9

26

38

24

12

4.4

3.0

1996 Jul 25-28

28

34

25

13

4.3

3.0

1993 Dec 17-21

24

39

29

8

4.5

--



Based on National Adults

 

Do not own a gun



1



2-4



5+


No opinion



Mean



Median

2002 Oct 14-17

55%

10

20

11

4

1.9

0

2000 Aug 29-Sep 5

58%

11

17

9

5

1.6

0

1999 Feb 8-9

60%

10

14

10

6

1.7

0

1996 Jul 25-28

58%

1

14

10

7

1.6

0



* -- Less than 0.5%

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