About one year after the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and with yet another gun tragedy in Virginia just this morning, it’s important to pause to consider how our gun laws continue to drift so far rightward. Our new poll conducted for the group GunsDown demonstrates exactly how out of step the gun debate is from what Americans actually want. Even many voters in gun-owning households oppose efforts toward fewer, weaker gun laws. (Our poll reached 1294 adults, including 997 likely voters, online May 19-21. The the full polling memo is on the GunsDown website here.)
Americans want fewer guns that are harder to get
Voters clearly express their values when it comes to guns. Fewer guns, not more (54% vs 15%). Harder to get, not easier (61% vs 9%). Stronger laws, not weaker ones (59% vs 10%).
Even among likely voters in gun-owning households, this pattern holds. While shy of a majority, more gun-owners prefer stronger laws, fewer guns over more, and guns that are harder to get.
Majorities support a sweeping list of stronger gun laws
While many support stronger gun laws broadly, even more back a variety of specific proposals. This is consistent with other public research on guns and is similar to the well-documented pattern of Affordable Care Act polling. Even on Common Core, we’ve found the provisions to be better-received than the standards as a whole. For all three of these examples, the broader labels are partisan triggers; the specifics are less so. The angels are in the details.
In the current poll, majorities favor all but one of the 16 proposals tested—even policies some might assume to be controversial, like a national registry or buyback programs. Only an outright ban on handgun ownership fails to gain majority support, but a third of Americans even support that. Most proposals also enjoy substantial support from gun owners.
Most prioritize safety over gun rights
Perhaps concerns about safety are driving voters’ views. Far more prioritize “reducing the number of gun deaths” over “protecting” gun rights (59% vs. 41%). Even more favor reducing gun deaths over “expanding” gun rights (75% vs. 25%), which is the policy debate reality even in the aftermath of Newtown.
Compare these numbers to decades-long tracking from Pew Research Center, which shows voters more divided between “controlling gun ownership” and “protecting gun rights.” As I have written for The Huffington Post and Center for American Progress, it is misleading to ask people to choose between a vague and anodyne means (controlling ownership) and an end (protecting rights). Further, a focus on protecting mischaracterizes a debate often focused on gun rights being expanded. Notably, among gun-owners, two-thirds prioritize “protecting” rights, just 39% prioritize “expanding” rights.
And guns don’t make people feel safer
More guns don’t make Americans feel more safe. A majority say more guns in public places “like grocery stores, restaurants, and sporting events” would make them less safe (55%), while only a fourth (24%) said it would make them feel safer. About a third of gun owners (32%) feel more guns would make them less safe.
Democrats are the most passionate
Some might say conventional wisdom suggests gun rights advocates are the most passionate, while support for stronger gun laws is more tepid. Our poll shows the opposite is true. Democrats are far more likely to support stronger gun laws than Republicans are to support weaker ones. Democrats are far more likely to say we should have fewer guns that are harder to get, than Republicans are to say we should have more, easier to get guns. And a majority of Democrats strongly support most of the proposals we tested.
This Democratic enthusiasm is consistent with the broader political climate. Our poll found Democrats to outnumber Republicans, similar to the national average, a recent Fox News poll, and Gallup trends. Pew found Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say their party is “united.” And the same Pew study showed Republicans losing ground on which party would do the better job on a wide variety of issues—guns included.
Taken together, Democratic enthusiasm for stronger gun laws, combined with more modest support from gun-owners and Republicans, suggests voters are more united than you might think. And not just on proposals like background checks, but on a sweeping commitment to reducing the number of guns in circulation. Anyone who tells you this issue is divisive just doesn’t have their finger on the pulse.