Key facts about Americans and guns


A customer purchases a handgun at a gun store in Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Guns are deeply rooted in American society and the nation’s political debates.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to bear guns, and about a third of American adults report personally owning a firearm. At the same time, President Joe Biden and other policymakers have proposed new restrictions on access to firearms in an effort to address gun violence ranging from rising murder rates in some big cities mass shootings.

Here are some key findings on Americans’ attitudes toward gun violence, gun policy, and other topics, from recent surveys by Pew Research Center and Gallup.

Following several recent mass shootings in the United States, the Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to share key facts about Americans and guns. We used data from our own survey and from Gallup to provide an overview of Americans’ views on gun policy and how those views have changed over time, as well as to examine the proportion of adults who own guns themselves and why to do. Data on the number of monthly firearms background checks come from the FBI National instant criminal background check system.

The Pew Research Center’s April 2021 poll surveyed 5,109 American adults. All participants are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited by nationally random sampling of residential addresses. This way almost all American adults have a chance to be selected. The survey is weighted to be representative of the adult American population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education, and other categories. Learn more about the ATP methodology.

Here are the questions used for the survey, as well as the answers and its methodology.

About half of Americans say gun violence is a very big problem in the country today

About half of Americans (48%) see gun violence as a very big problem in the country today, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2021. This is comparable to the share that says the same for the federal budget deficit (49%), violent crime (48%), illegal immigration (48%) and of the coronavirus epidemic (47%). Only one problem is considered a very big problem by a majority of Americans: accessibility of health care (56%).

Another 24% of adults believe gun violence to be a moderately serious problem. About three in ten say it is a small problem (22%) or not at all (6%).

Attitudes towards gun violence differ considerably by race, ethnicity, party and community type. About eight in ten black adults (82%) say gun violence is a very big problem – by far the largest share of any racial or ethnic group. In comparison, about six in ten Hispanic adults (58%) and 39% of white adults view gun violence this way. (Due to sample size limitations, data for Asian Americans is not available.)

Black Democrats are more likely than White Hispanic Democrats to say gun violence is a very big problem

Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents are much more likely than Republicans and GOP supporters to see gun violence as a major problem (73% vs. 18%). And nearly two-thirds of Americans who describe their community as urban (65%) say the same, compared to 47% of suburbanites and 35% of those who live in rural areas.

About half of Americans (53%) support tougher gun laws, a drop from 2019, according to the April 2021 survey. The smallest shares say these laws are about right (32%) or should be less stringent (14%). The share of Americans who say gun laws should be stricter fell from 60% in September 2019. Current views are in line with what they were in March 2017.

Support for stricter gun laws has fluctuated in recent years;  fewer, stricter return laws now than in 2019

Among Republicans and Independents with a Republican tendency, opinions have changed. Republicans are currently more likely to say gun laws should be less stringent (27%) than more stringent (20%). In 2019, by comparison, a greater proportion of Republicans favored stricter gun laws than less stringent laws (31% vs. 20%). Over two years, about half of Republicans said current gun laws were about right.

Today, a large majority of Democrats and Democrats with Democratic leanings (81%) believe gun laws should be tighter, although that share has declined slightly since 2019 (from 86%).

Americans are divided on whether restricting the legal possession of firearms would result in fewer mass shootings. Debates over national firearms laws often followed by recent mass shootings. But Americans are divided over whether legal changes would result in fewer mass shootings, according to the spring 2021 poll. About half of adults (49%) say there would be fewer mass shootings. it was harder for people to get guns legally, while almost as many say it would make no difference (42%) or that there would be more mass shootings (9%).

The public is even more divided about the effects of gun ownership on crime in general. About a third (34%) say that if more people owned guns there would be more crime. The same percentage (34%) said there would be no difference in crime, while 31% said there would be less crime.

There is broad partisan agreement on some gun policy proposals, but most are politically divergent, the spring 2021 survey was found. Majorities in both partisan coalitions are in favor of two policies that would restrict access to guns: preventing people with mental illness from buying guns (85% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats support him) and submitting sales of guns. private guns and gun show sales with background checks (70% Republicans, 92% Democrats). Majorities in both parties equally to oppose allow people to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

Biparty support to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns, expanding background checks;  wide partisan differences on many other gun policies

Other proposals reveal deep partisan divisions. While 80% or more of Democrats are in favor of creating a federal database to track all gun sales and banning both assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges, the majority of Republicans oppose the proposals.

Most Republicans, on the other hand, support allowing people to carry concealed weapons in more places (72%) and allowing teachers and school officials to carry weapons in K- schools. 12 (66%). These proposals are supported by only 20% and 24% of Democrats, respectively.

Americans in rural areas generally prefer greater access to firearms, while Americans in urban areas prefer more restrictive policies, according to the April 2021 survey. Although rural areas tend to be more republican and urban communities more democratic, this pattern holds true even for those who identify with the same political party. For example, 71% of rural Republicans are in favor of allowing teachers and other school officials to carry guns in K-12 schools, compared to 56% of Republicans living in urban areas. Conversely, about half of Republicans who live in urban communities (51%) support a ban on assault-type weapons, compared to 31% of those who live in rural areas.

Less support for an expanded gun background check among Republicans in rural areas than those living in urban and suburban communities

Democrats support more restrictions on guns regardless of where they live, but there are still differences depending on the type of community. A third of rural Democrats (33%), for example, support allowing teachers and other school officials to carry guns in K-12 schools, compared to 21% of those in urban areas.

More than four in ten American adults (44%) say they live in a household with a firearm, including about a third (32%) who say they personally own one, according to a Gallup survey carried out in October 2020.

There are differences in gun ownership rates by political party membership, gender, geography, and other factors. For example, half of Republicans say they personally own a gun, compared to 18% of Democrats. (The self-employed are counted separately in the Gallup survey. Among the self-employed, 29% report personally owning a firearm.)

Men are more than twice as likely as women to own a gun (45% vs. 18%), and 48% of those living in cities or rural areas report owning a gun, compared to about a quarter of those who live in suburbs (25%) or cities (23%).

Federal data suggests gun sales have increased in recent years, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the number of monthly federal background checks for firearms purchases was at least 20% higher than the same month in 2019, according to the FBI. National instant criminal background check system. The largest percentage increase occurred in July 2020, when around 3.6 million background checks were completed – a 44% increase from July 2019.

Personal protection tops the list of reasons gun owners report owning a firearm. In another Gallup survey in August 2019, gun owners were more likely to cite safety or personal protection as the reason. they have a gun. About six in ten (63%) said so in an open question. Significantly smaller proportions gave other reasons, including hunting (40%), non-specific hobbies or sports (11%), that their weapon was an ancient or family heirloom (6%) or that the weapon was linked to their profession (5%)).

A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found similar trends in the reasons gun owners gave for owning a gun, as well as the overall proportion of Americans owning a gun in their homes.

Note: This is an update of an article originally published on January 5, 2016.


About Hector Hedgepeth

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