Increasing numbers of Americans support gun background checks

Increasing numbers of Americans support gun background checks
Some states have universal background checks for gun purchases. Credit: Lutsenko_Oleksandr/Shutterstock.com

In the aftermath of the shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, public debate once again turned to what Congress should do to reduce gun violence.

One of the challenges that many policymakers face is understanding the views of the general public. Policymakers tend to be most concerned about the magnitude and intensity of the opposition to stricter gun regulation.

In late 2016, my research team surveyed 1,115 adults twice, six months apart. We discovered that the number of Americans supporting stricter background checks for gun purchases is growing, and it is growing most among people who previously opposed or were neutral about such regulation.

Views on guns, six months apart

We asked respondents whether they remembered nine specific acts or attempted acts of violence targeting large numbers of people in the U.S., from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012 up to the bombings in New York and New Jersey in 2016.

Five of these events occurred before the first survey; four occurred between the first and second surveys.

We had two theories as to how Americans' opinions on guns might have changed in the intervening six months.

First, as these violent events continue to occur, the general public might become inured to acts of mass violence, including shootings, and to consider them to be the "new normal." In this scenario, we would expect support for public policies to address gun violence would diminish.

Increasing numbers of Americans support gun background checks

Alternatively, there might be a cumulative effect, where people eventually get to the point of saying that enough is enough. In this scenario, support for gun-control policies should go up.

We asked about levels of support for, or opposition to, a number of policy proposals, including stricter for all gun purchases, sales bans on assault-style weapons, enhanced and expanded high-tech digital surveillance.

Who changed their minds

As reported in other surveys, U.S. support for stricter backgrounds checks is high.

Federal law currently requires only commercial purchasers of guns to be cleared through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Private sales of guns and sales of guns at gun shows are not covered by the federal law, although 15 states have stricter requirements. Stricter background checks would include requiring the buyers of all guns to be cleared before a purchase could be completed.

In our first survey, a little over 70% of the people said they "strongly supported" or "somewhat supported" stricter checks. In the second survey, six months later, that number rose to nearly 75%.

We saw a remarkable amount of stability in people's views on background checks. Nearly two-thirds of the people interviewed reported the exact same views at both points in time.

But some people did change their opinions. Between the first and second survey, there was a clear tendency for individual people's positions to move incrementally toward supporting background checks.

Increasing numbers of Americans support gun background checks

Among those who "strongly opposed" stricter checks, only 46% still strongly opposed them six months later.

Of the 118 people who strongly or somewhat opposed stricter background checks in the first survey, over 20% changed to say they were supportive six months later. Of those who neither supported nor opposed background checks at first, a third shifted to be supportive.

Very few people reported views moving toward being more opposed. Of the 804 people who supported background checks at first, only about 10% shifted to neither support nor oppose, or to oppose, six months later.

Shootings' cumulative effect

Clearly, support for stricter background checks has increased over the six months we studied, even among many of those who might have been previously uneasy with such checks.

This pattern is reflected in changes toward other policy options, including banning assault-style weapons, although background checks have gained the most support.

Our work offers a glimpse into how individuals in the U.S. have changed their opinions on gun control. Many surveys capture a moment in time, but don't show who is changing or in what direction.

Based on the information from this study, there would seem to be something of a cumulative effect gradually moving people toward realizing the need for policy intervention.

Strong public support for gun legislation has not been translated into congressional action in the past. Evidence presented here and in national polls suggests that support has never been stronger than it is right now. Of course, whether these changes usher in a new era of efforts in Congress or the states to stem remains to be seen.


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mqr
Aug 22, 2019
So they are not really living in the "post truth".... just the psychopath in chief wants the mentally weak to believe his lies. However, picking up dead bodies shakes their hypnotic state, especially after an idiot killed them as "fun" and babbling schizophrenic ideology.

All white supremacist shooters = mostly virgin males, no college degrees, no stable romantic/stable relationships, no spirituality in their lives = wild beasts.

Aug 22, 2019
Ahhh! More disparaging epithets for this utterly DEPLORBLE citizen to embrace. I believe that mqr is merely projecting.

Aug 22, 2019
Maybe we just need to make a law against MURDER.
Or we can have gun control, knife control, car control, propane cooking gas control, gasoline control, insecticide control, rat poison control, etc. to stop murders.

Aug 22, 2019
I thought background checks were already mandatory...

Aug 22, 2019
So they are not really living in the "post truth".... just the psychopath in chief wants the mentally weak to believe his lies. However, picking up dead bodies shakes their hypnotic state, especially after an idiot killed them as "fun" and babbling schizophrenic ideology.

All white supremacist shooters = mostly virgin males, no college degrees, no stable romantic/stable relationships, no spirituality in their lives = wild beasts.

Lost my virginity at 17(was a birthday present), half a college degree(associates), married for last 28 years and believe in Universal Reality.
Still a wild beast... :-)
I ain't nothin' but mammal -
and still do it like they do it on Discovery Channel... :-)
You discredit wild beasts with your rant.

mqr
Aug 22, 2019
yes it is true, my bad. Wild beasts are much better, they are more logical, less violent. I never seen a wild animal hurting their children.

Aug 22, 2019
Until enough people refuse to vote for someone who won't vote for background checks, they're not gonna happen, and that's just the way it is.

Aug 22, 2019
yes it is true, my bad. Wild beasts are much better, they are more logical, less violent. I never seen a wild animal hurting their children.

Unfortunately, I've read a number of reports where that actually does happen...

Aug 22, 2019
Register the firearms. Tax them annually. Arrest and imprison those who don't register for tax fraud. Firearms are a privilege and not a right, that is unless you happen to be a well-organized state-run militia. If you disagree, allow me to point out that the SCOTUS and the NRA are full of excrement.

Aug 22, 2019
Too little, too late, isn't it?
Remember when this kind of violence was branded -- "Going postal".
Gun control might reduce the occurrences of these tragedies and the number of dead, but not solve the true problem.
When will the fact that there is a serious mental deficiency in the good old US of A, be addressed?

Aug 27, 2019
I never seen a wild animal hurting their children.
Absence of evidence that you have seen is not evidence of absence of the fact.

Aug 29, 2019
@antigoracle.
Remember when this kind of violence was branded -- "Going postal".
Gun control might reduce the occurrences of these tragedies and the number of dead, but not solve the true problem.
When will the fact that there is a serious mental deficiency in the good old US of A, be addressed?
It appears to be a combination of factors; but for the most 'underlying' part it's mainly two in particular: (1) the 'dog eat dog' law of the jungle mentality of US social/health support/insurance system; and (2) the political corruption which allows a few wealthy individuals to hold congress hostage via 'funding/advertising' threats against those election candidates who might otherwise do something for the country instead of for themselves and/or the donors funding their election campaigns. It's a mess, that's for sure; and it will take some drastic action to change things there. Victims/families of shootings might soon start 'spreading the pain' to NRA members/families? Bad all round.

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