LOWELL, Mass. – A majority of Americans – more than three-quarters in some cases – support major policy changes when it comes to gun control, including expanding background checks and banning assault weapons, according to a new national poll from the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion.
The survey of 1,000 American adults found that 78 percent favor more thorough background checks for those buying guns, including in-depth psychological evaluations, and 80 percent support closing what is known as the “gun show loophole,” which allows individuals to purchase guns without the same background checks used in other types of sales, said Associate Prof. Joshua Dyck, co-director of the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion.
While large percentages of those who said they support more thorough background checks identified themselves as Democrats and independents, 70 percent of Republicans surveyed also said they support such a move. Tea party members were nearly split on expanding background checks, with only a slim majority opposed (51 percent) compared to 49 percent in favor. Similar bipartisan support was found for closing the “gun show loophole” and a greater number of tea party members (65 percent) said they are in favor of the reform.
In addition, 60 percent of those polled said they support banning the sale of assault weapons. Those who identify as strongly Democratic (70 percent) stated the strongest support for the measure, while only 18 percent of tea party members were in favor and 45 percent were strongly opposed. About a third of all Republicans (32 percent strongly identifying as Republican and 36 percent of others) said they favor a ban.
“The most striking finding in this survey is that the public appears to be far more supportive of reforming our gun laws than Congress appears willing or able to respond. In particular, large super-majorities favor making background checks tougher and expanding them to include gun shows; the latter reform is even supported by 65 percent of self-identified members of the tea party movement, while 49 percent of tea party members would support making background checks tougher,” said Dyck, who analyzed the poll results. “The policy window on reforming gun laws may have closed in the wake of a series of gun-violence tragedies in the last few years, but the support for change still strongly exists among the public. More than anything this suggests to me that the National Rifle Association remains one of the most powerful and influential interest groups in the United States.”
In addition to opinions on gun control, the poll also found that a quarter of American adults own at least one gun and 38 percent live in a home with a firearm. More gun owners (45 percent) live in rural/non-metropolitan areas while 15 percent live in large metropolitan areas. Thirty-one percent of white respondents own guns, compared to 14 percent of African-Americans and 9 percent of Latinos. More Republicans reported they are gun owners than Democrats, and respondents who identified themselves as tea party members were more than twice as likely to own a gun as those who said they do not (47 percent to 23 percent).
The most common reason respondents reported for gun ownership was personal protection (80 percent), compared to 45 percent who said it is a hobby, 37 percent for hunting and 6 percent who said it is work-related.
Other findings from the poll include:
- 69 percent of those polled believe that school shootings have become a bigger problem in the last decade, while 25 percent said the problem is about the same and 6 percent said it is less of a problem. Respondents who identify strongly with a political party – 76 percent of strong Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans – and about half of tea party members (48 percent) said the problem is greater.
- 52 percent of Americans are in favor of teachers carrying firearms in schools. The majority of support for the measure came from those who identify themselves as tea party members (81 percent) and those who live in rural areas (64 percent).
- 47 percent are very concerned about gun violence and other gun-related crime, with 37 percent somewhat concerned and 17 percent not very or not at all. Concern was stronger among those who live in larger metropolitan areas (55 percent were very concerned), compared with those who live in the suburbs (44 percent) and rural areas (49 percent). Seventy percent of African-American, 47 percent of Latino and 42 percent of white respondents said they are very concerned about gun violence.
- Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed – regardless of whether they live in an urban, suburban or rural setting – feel gang violence is a major problem.
The Center for Public Opinion surveyed 1,000 American adults on their attitudes about gun violence and gun control in the United States. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points for all respondents. The poll was initiated by UMass Lowell students, who competed in teams in an upper-level political science course to have their proposal fielded in a national survey. The students worked in conjunction with Center for Public Opinion faculty members to devise the final survey, which was administered by YouGov and fielded in April.
The students who worked on the survey came away with a new understanding not only of polling but also for what shapes Americans’ views on issues.
“The level of concern for crime seems to fall in line with what you would expect in the categories of party ID, race and geography. However, the type of crime seems to be skewed by the partisan filter of the American voter, with Republicans expressing far greater concern over gang violence than gun-related crimes or school shootings,” said Makayle Washington, a political science major from Cheshire, Conn.
“When we designed the poll, I was most interested in what respondents would say about whether teachers should be armed in the classroom. We were surprised to see a majority, 52 percent, supports arming teachers,” said Brendan Thompson, a history major from Groton. “However, a lot of this support is soft support, as 32 percent somewhat support and 21 percent somewhat oppose this idea, meaning that future events will likely dictate how Americans ultimately feel about this issue.”
“I am very appreciative to have had the unique opportunity to work on this survey as a group with the guidance and support of Prof. Joshua Dyck,” said Nowell Sheinwald, a business major from North Salem, N.Y., adding that the initial idea for the poll grew as the work progressed and it has produced “extremely interesting and useful data that will hopefully further aid the academic field of public opinion.”
More information on the poll methodology and full polling data are available at www.uml.edu/polls
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