The American public as a whole are much more likely to favor stricter gun laws than gun owners

American opinion about guns and gun control hasn’t changed much in the last five years, but the latest Economist/YouGov Poll provides new information about how the public – gun owners and non-gun owners alike – viewed gun restrictions while the trial of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado theater shooter was in its penalty phase.

There are some limitations that gun owners would accept:  they are just as likely as the public overall to support preventing those with a history of mental illness from owning guns.  James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, while judged sane under Colorado law (defined as knowing the difference between right and wrong) was under psychiatric treatment and had legally purchased weapons he used in the shootings. 

Gun owners would also accept a five-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns.  Even 59% of those who currently own a handgun would agree. 

One in five Americans personally own a gun – rifle, shotgun or handgun.  Another 14% do not personally own a gun, but there is at least one in their household.  Gun owners are more than twice as likely to be male as female.  Conservatives and Republicans are nearly twice as likely as liberals and Democrats to own guns.  And those in the Northeast are the least likely of those in any region to report owning a gun. 

There is a reason people own guns.  The most importance single reason appears to be personal safety.  77% of gun owners cite that as a reason to own a gun.  Women gun owners are even more likely to say that safety matters.  85% of women who own guns say this.  Nearly nine in ten of those who own only a handgun cite safety as the reason they have a handgun. 

Shooting, hunting and sport gun use are more important to men.

But only a third of those who don’t have a gun in their household say they would feel safer if someone in their household did have a gun.  More conservatives, Republicans and men – over four in ten in each group -- say they would feel safer with a gun.

There are many proposed limits on gun control where gun owners disagree with the public.  Americans in general favor registration of guns on a national gun registry and requiring police permits for all handguns.

Most Americans also support banning clips of more than ten rounds, banning semi-automatic weapons, and banning assault weapons.  Gun owners would do none of these things. 

There are some differences among gun owners.  Those who own only handguns are divided evenly when it comes to an assault weapons ban. 

There are limits to the desire for gun control nationally.  The public is divided about limiting the number of handguns a person can own, and preventing concealed carry,  It opposes, by three to one, banning all handguns except those used by law enforcement.

Many gun owners are worried about the government taking their guns – and that’s particularly a concern for Republicans and conservatives, two-thirds of whom say they are worried that the government will sieze their weapons. More than one in four Republicans and conservatives are very worried.

Throughout the last few years, Americans in general have favored stricter gun control.  But support has weakened since early 2013, after the Aurora and Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. 

One-third of gun owners say they support stricter gun laws.

See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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