December 14, 2012

Public Attitudes Toward Gun Control

Pew Research Center Data Note

The Pew Research Center has been tracking attitudes about gun control for nearly 20 years. Our question asks whether it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns, or to control gun ownership.

Our most recent survey on the issue, conducted July 26-29, 2012, shortly after a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, found that 47% said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 46% said it was more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns. Opinions were largely unchanged from April 2012, when 45% prioritized gun control and 49% gun rights.

Opinion about gun control has been divided since early 2009, shortly after Barack Obama’s election. From 1993 through 2008, majorities had said it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun rights.

In May 1999, a month after the shooting at Columbine High School, 65% said it was more important to control gun ownership while 30% said it was more important to protect gun rights. The previous measure, from six years earlier (December 1993) found that 57% prioritized gun control while 34% prioritized gun rights.

Recent mass shootings have had little impact on the public’s attitudes toward gun control. That was the case after the Colorado theater shootings; similarly, views of gun control changed little after the Jan. 2011 shooting in Tucson Arizona, which killed six people and seriously wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

In April 2007, following the large-scale shooting at Virginia Tech University, 60% said it was more important to control gun ownership, which was little changed from 58% in February 2004.

The partisan gap in attitudes about gun control has widened considerably in recent years. In July, following the shootings in Colorado, 71% of Republicans said it was more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns while just 26% said it was more important to control gun ownership. Among Democrats, opinion was roughly the reverse: 72% said it was more important to control gun ownership while 21% prioritized gun rights. Independents were divided:50% said it was more important to protect gun rights; 43% said gun control was more important.

In 1993, fewer than half of Republicans (45%) prioritized gun rights over gun control. Democrats’ views over the past two decades, by contrast, have changed very little. In 1993, just 25% said protecting gun rights was more important than gun control. (For more on changing views about gun control among partisan and demographic groups, see “More Support for Gun Rights, Gay Marriage than in 2008, 2004,” April 25, 2012.)