Survey: Most Americans support stiffer gun laws

JOHNS HOPKINS (US) — Most Americans, including a majority of gun owners and National Rifle Association members, support at least some proposed policy changes aimed at reducing gun violence, a new survey finds.

Proposals explored in the survey include requiring background checks for all gun sales (supported by 89 percent of all survey respondents); banning the sale of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons (69 percent); banning the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines (68 percent); and prohibiting gun possession by anyone convicted of a serious crime as a juvenile (83 percent) or convicted of violating a domestic-violence restraining order (81 percent).

Americans also support a range of measures to strengthen oversight of gun dealers and various policies restricting gun access by people with mental illness, according to findings by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.


For many policies, there was little difference in support between gun owners and non-gun owners, the researchers say.

The national survey, which over-sampled gun owners and non-gun owners living in homes with guns to allow for more precise estimates of opinions among these groups, was taken in January, several weeks after the Dec. 14 mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn. A majority of respondents supported 27 of the 31 gun policies asked about in the survey.

“Not only are gun owners and non-gun owners very much aligned in their support for proposals to strengthen US gun laws,” says study co-author Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, “but the majority of NRA members are also in favor of many of these policies.”

The survey found that 74 percent of NRA members support requiring background checks for all gun sales, 64 percent support prohibiting people who have been convicted of two or more crimes involving alcohol or drugs within a three-year period from having a gun, and 70 percent want a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for a person convicted of knowingly selling a gun to someone who is not legally allowed to own one.

“This research indicates high support among Americans, including gun owners in many cases, for a wide range of policies aimed at reducing gun violence,” says lead author Colleen Barry, associate professor of health policy and management. “These data indicate broad consensus among the American public in support of a comprehensive approach to reducing the staggering toll of gun violence in the United States.”

The research team fielded a second national survey to assess attitudes about mental illness. That survey reveals ambivalent attitudes among the American public about mental illness.

Sixty-one percent of respondents favor greater spending on mental health screening and treatment as a strategy for reducing gun violence, and 58 percent say discrimination against people with mental illness is a serious problem. Yet almost half of respondents thought people with serious mental illness are more dangerous than others, and two-thirds expressed unwillingness to have a person with a serious mental illness as a neighbor.

“In light of our findings about Americans’ attitudes toward persons with mental illness, it is worth thinking carefully about how to implement effective gun violence prevention measures without exacerbating stigma or discouraging people from seeking treatment,” Barry says.

The results of both surveys are summarized in “After Newtown—Public Opinion on Gun Policy and Mental Illness,” published online today by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Gun violence claims 31,000 US lives each year, and the rate of firearms homicides in America is 20 times higher than that of other economically advanced nations.

The study was conducted using the survey research firm GfK Knowledge Networks. There were 2,703 respondents in the gun policy survey and 1,530 respondents in the mental illness survey.

“These data indicate that the majority of Americans are in favor of policy changes that would ultimately increase safety,” says Jon Vernick, co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research and a co-author of the study.  “This consensus should propel forward comprehensive legislation aimed at saving lives.”

The publication of the surveys follows a meeting of gun policy experts convened at Johns Hopkins University earlier this month, where some of the data and other research were presented. Ten days after the meeting, the Johns Hopkins University Press published Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, a book that summarizes the research, analysis, and recommendations from the two-day meeting.

Source: Johns Hopkins University