For Americans, the right to bear arms doesn’t apply to those with a history of mental illness

April 06, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Mass shootings rarely change the public’s beliefs about gun control. Those opinions now are embedded in partisanship, and among those who do and do not own firearms. But there are reforms that Republicans and Democrats, gun owners, and those who do not have guns in their household continue to see as positive.

This Economist/YouGov poll continues to show strong support of some specific measures, particularly those that involve keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and those with mental illnesses. Three-quarters (76%) of Americans believe that individuals with a history of mental illness should be prevented from owning guns.

Additionally, three-quarters of Americans (73%) would require criminal and mental background checks for all individuals purchasing firearms.

For the public overall – and for many gun owners –  the right to bear arms doesn’t apply to those who may be mentally ill, or to those who cannot pass a criminal background check. Four in five gun owners (81%) want to prevent people with a history of mental illness from possessing firearms, and two-thirds of gun owners (68%) want to require background checks for all gun sales. 

But the across-the-board support for those two actions doesn’t extend to other items frequently proposed by gun control advocates. Gun owners (and Republicans) oppose legislation that would: 

  • Ban semi-automatic weapons   
  • Ban the sale of magazine clips for semi-automatic weapons that hold more than 10 rounds 
  • Require gun owners to register their guns with a national gun registry 
  • Prevent people from carrying a concealed gun in public, or 
  • Have the Centers for Disease Control conduct research on gun violence. 

Majorities of the public overall favor banning semi-automatic weapons (51%-35%) and magazine clips for those weapons that hold more than 10 rounds (54%-32%), as well as a National Gun Registry (58%-31%). But Americans divide evenly on preventing the carrying of concealed weapons (42%-44%), and less than half want the CDC to conduct research on gun violence. Overall, 45% favor the CDC doing that, but 33% are opposed.  

Americans characterize the March shootings that killed ten people in Boulder, Colorado as a violent crime (55%), and many (42%) also attribute it to mental illness. Last month’s Atlanta shootings that killed eight, including six Asian women, was more likely to be seen as a violent crime (52%) and a hate crime (47%). 

Boulder Shooting
 

But while the public supports many gun control measures, there is a fatalist streak among many that the Boulder and Atlanta shootings would have happened even with stricter gun control. Democrats believe changes in gun laws might have helped (57% think they would have prevented recent shootings vs 16% who say it would not have), but more Americans overall think they wouldn’t make a difference (43%) than think they would prevent mass gun shootings (34%). 

Women (39% vs 36%) and those under the age of 30 (40% vs 27%) are among the most hopeful. Gun owners are negative about a possible impact (20% vs 64%). 

Related: One in three say Asian Americans face a great deal of discrimination, following Atlanta shootings 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between March 27 - 30, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.9% for the overall sample  

Image: Getty