Gun owner or not, Americans agree on many ways to limit gun violence

Deepest divides are over assault weapons and guns in schools

person holding gun

AGREE  In a new survey, 83 percent of U.S. gun owners and 85 percent of nonowners said they support stricter safety-training standards for permits to carry a concealed weapon.


Despite a public debate that grows more fractious with every school shooting — from Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., to Parkland, Fla., and the latest deadly attack May 18 in Santa Fe, Texas — Americans actually agree on gun policy to a surprising extent.  

According to a new survey of more than 2,100 people, majorities of both gun owners and nonowners support 15 potential gun restrictions or regulations, researchers report online May 17 in the American Journal of Public Health.

“There’s much more agreement than one would think given the rhetoric and the fighting,” says David Hemenway, an expert on violence prevention at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Two new questions in the survey, the third conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, give a glimpse into where Americans draw their battle lines. While more than 80 percent of gun owners and nonowners agreed on safe-handling tests for carrying concealed weapons, they disagreed on allowing those legally concealed guns onto school grounds. That idea got a thumbs-up from nearly 43 percent of gun owners but only 19 percent of nonowners.

gun free zone sign
DISAGREE Of gun owners surveyed, 43 percent supported allowing legally concealed guns onto the grounds of schools for kindergarten through grade 12. Only 19 percent of nonowners agreed with them. alptraum/iStockphoto

Overall, the survey found little difference in each group’s support for 15 policies, including universal background checks and improved reporting of mental illness records for background checks. There was less of a meeting of the minds on requiring owners to keep guns locked and banning military-style assault weapons and large-capacity clips.

Hemenway, who was not part of the study, points to 1996 and 1998 surveys showing that most Americans then also supported many gun-control measures. “This has been true for the last 20 years.”

What’s less clear, he says, is which policies work. “There’s been very little money for firearms research, relative to the size of the problem,” he says. This dearth of research, he says, leaves it hard to predict the effectiveness of individual policies (SN: 5/14/16, p. 16).

Even so, the new study’s authors suggest that policymakers can look to areas of agreement as a guide to developing regulations. 

Erika Engelhaupt is a freelance science writer and editor based in Knoxville, Tenn.

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