Poll: Most Americans see gun violence as a major problem, want stricter gun laws

UChicago Harris/AP-NORC poll: 21% of Americans say gun violence has impacted their lives

Twenty-one percent of Americans say either themselves, a family member or a close friend has had an experience with gun violence in the past five years—and twice as many believe it is likely they will be a victim of gun violence in the next five years, according to a new study from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

There are significant racial and ethnic disparities in experiences with gun violence. Black Americans and Hispanic Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to say either themselves or someone they know has experienced gun violence (54% and 27% vs. 13%).

Looking ahead to the next five years, about 4 in 10 Americans think it is at least somewhat likely that they will personally be a victim of gun violence, including nearly 1 in 10 who believe it is extremely or very likely. 71% of Americans say gun laws should be stricter.

“The poll highlights that gun violence has touched the lives of many Americans, especially Black and Hispanic Americans, and there is significant public concern about this,” said Jens Ludwig, a professor at the Harris School of Public Policy. “Despite the polarizing climate surrounding these issues, the poll also reveals strong public support for policies to prevent gun violence, which may help to foster increased consensus among policymakers to further act.”

Three-fourths of Americans view gun violence as a major problem, and 8 in 10 say gun violence is on the rise in the United States. Fewer believe it is increasing in their state (66%) or local community (39%). Those living in urban areas (51%) are more likely to believe that gun violence is on the rise in their communities than those living in suburbs (39%) and rural communities (27%).

Many Americans want to both prevent gun violence and protect gun rights. Fifty-two percent say it is both very important to prevent mass shootings and very important to ensure people are able to own guns for personal protection. There is broad public support for a variety of gun control policies, and 71% of Americans say gun laws should be stricter. Majorities favor both policies to restrict who can buy guns and policies banning certain guns, but the most popular regulations are those that limit who can purchase guns. For example, 85% support a federal law preventing mentally ill people from purchasing guns, compared to 59% who support a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons.

“The American public is more supportive of policies limiting who can purchase guns than policies banning the sale of certain types of guns,” said David Sterrett, senior research scientist with The AP-NORC Center. “The findings also highlight that about half of Americans have intersecting priorities with gun policies, and they don’t see a direct conflict between protecting gun ownership and implementing policies to prevent gun violence.”

—Adapted from a story first published on the Harris School of Public Policy website.