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May 17, 2018

Little Difference Between Gun Owners, Non-Owners on Key Gun Policies, Survey Finds

National public opinion survey finds the majority of respondents favor regulating guns for nearly two dozen gun policies

A new national public opinion survey from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds widespread agreement among gun owners and non-gun owners in their support for policies that restrict or regulate firearms.

The survey measured support for 24 different gun policies and found minimal gaps in support between gun owners and non-gun owners for 15, or 63 percent, of the policies. For 23 of the 24 policies examined, the majority of respondents supported gun restrictions or regulations, including requiring a background check on every gun sale (universal background check) and prohibiting a person subject to a temporary domestic violence restraining order from having a gun for the duration of the order. 

The survey was fielded in January 2017 and is the third National Survey of Gun Policy conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Researchers used the National Opinion Research Center’s AmeriSpeaks online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The study sample included 2,124 adults (602 gun owners, 1,522 non-gun owners) ages 18 years and older. 

The findings were published online by the American Journal of Public Health

In 2016, firearms were responsible for more than 38,000 U.S. deaths and over 116,000 nonfatal gunshot wounds treated in U.S. hospitals. The United States continues to debate measures at both the state and federal levels that seek to address gun violence.

The policies with the highest overall public support and minimal support gaps, by gun ownership status, included: universal background checks (85.3 percent gun owners, 88.7 percent non-gun owners support), license suspension for gun dealers who cannot account for 20 or more guns in their inventory (82.1 percent gun owners , 85.7 percent non-gun owners support), higher safety training standards for concealed-carry permit holders (83 percent gun owners, 85.3 percent non-gun owners support), improved reporting of records related to mental illness for background checks (83.9 percent gun owners, 83.5 percent non-gun owners support), gun prohibitions for people subject to temporary domestic violence restraining orders (76.9 percent of gun owners, 82.3 percent non-gun owners support), and gun violence restraining orders, which are commonly referred to as extreme risk protection orders or Red Flag laws  (74.6 percent of gun owners and 80.3 percent non-gun owners support).

“Policies with high overall support among both gun owners and non-gun owners may be the most feasible to enact, and some have strong evidence to support their ability to reduce gun violence,” says lead author Colleen Barry, PhD, MPP, Fred and Julie Soper Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Widespread claims that a chasm separates gun owners from non-gun owners in their support for gun safety policies distracts attention from many areas of genuine agreement—areas that can lead to policy solutions and result in the prevention of gun violence.”

The survey also found several points of disagreement between gun owners and non-gun owners. Nine of the 24 policies examined had greater than 10-point support-gaps. More than half of gun owners, however, still favor several of these policies to restrict or regulate guns. These include: requiring that a person lock up guns in the home when not in use to prevent access by youth (58 percent of gun owners and 78.9 percent of non-gun owners support), allowing information about which particular gun dealers sell the most guns that are then used in crimes to be available to the police and public (62.9 percent of gun owners and 73.4 percent of non-gun owners support), requiring a person to obtain a license from local law enforcement before buying a gun (63.1 percent of gun owners and 81.3 percent of non-gun owners support), and allowing cities to sue gun dealers when there is evidence that the dealer’s practices allow criminals to obtain guns (66.7 percent of gun owners and 77.9 percent of non-gun owners support).

Two survey questions on concealed carry were new in the 2017 survey. Results show that 25.1 percent of respondents (42.6 percent of gun owners, 19.3 percent of non-gun owners) believe a person who can legally carry a gun should be allowed to bring that gun onto K-12 school grounds, and 84.7 percent of respondents (83 percent of gun owners, 85.3 percent of non-gun owners) believe that a person who can legally carry a concealed gun should be required to pass a test demonstrating they can safely handle the gun in common situations they may encounter.

“There is data supporting the efficacy of many of the policies with wide support among both gun owners and those who don’t own guns,” says study co-author Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “Relatively few states have these laws in place. This signals an opportunity for policy makers to enact policies which are both evidence-based and widely supported.”

“Public Support for Gun Violence Prevention Policies among Gun Owners and Non-Gun Owners in 2017” was written by Colleen L. Barry, PhD, MPP, Daniel W. Webster, ScD, MPH, Elizabeth Stone, BMus, Cassandra K. Crifasi, PhD, MPH, Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH, and Emma E. McGinty, PhD, MS. All researchers with the exception of Elizabeth Stone are with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Stone is with the Division of General Internal Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Funding for data collection came from internal Johns Hopkins University sources and a gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Additional support came from the Smart Family Foundation.

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Media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Alicia Samuels at 914-720-4635 or asamuels@jhu.edu and Barbara Benham at 410-614-6029 or bbenham1@jhu.edu.