How gun owners really feel about gun control

Mourners visit a memorial in front of Santa Fe High School on May 21, 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas. Getty Images/Scott Olson

A deadly shooting at the Santa Fe High School in Texas last Friday has once again propelled the gun-control debate into the national limelight.

The massacre took place in one of America’s most gun-friendly states – and while much of the immediate response from local lawmakers has focused on bolstering security in schools instead of restricting gun ownership, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that gun-control discussions aren’t exactly off the table, either.

Though it may seem as though Americans are hopelessly divided on guns, there’s more common ground than you might think.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health last week found that of 24 potential gun-control policies, gun owners and non-gun owners fell within a 10-point support gap on 16 of those policies – and previous studies have yielded similar results.

“Large majorities of both gun owners and non-gun owners strongly support measures to strengthen US gun laws,” the authors wrote. Given that gun issues are connected tightly to cultural and identity politics in America, it is noteworthy how much agreement we found in support for policies to regulate the way people acquire and carry guns.”

Here are some of the positions gun owners hold on gun control.

More than 80% of gun owners support universal background checks, which would ensure that anyone who buys a gun must first go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, even if they’re purchasing from private sellers.

The most vocal pushback on universal background checks comes from gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association, which opposes firearms registration and argues that the background checks won’t stop criminals from obtaining guns through theft or the black market.

But it’s worth noting that fewer than 20% of US gun owners are members of the NRA, and polling shows that support for universal background checks is high, even among NRA members.

Sources: American Journal of Public Health, NRA, Pew Research Center, PolitiFact

89% of gun owners also support preventing mentally ill people from buying guns. It’s one of the rare policies nearly everyone agrees on — it enjoys the same amount of support among gun owners, non-owners, Democrats, and Republicans.

Sources: Pew Research Center, Business Insider

84% of gun owners — even those in right-to-carry states — also support testing requirements for concealed-carry permit holders to gauge whether gun owners can safely and lawfully handle their weapons in common situations they might run into.

Source: American Journal of Public Health

Support for gun-violence restraining orders has also been gaining popularity. More than 70% of gun owners say they support barring people from possessing or purchasing a gun while they’re subject to a temporary restraining order.

“Red flag laws” have been imposed in five states in recent years to some success, and function similarly to those that govern common restraining orders.

Typically, gun-violence restraining orders take effect when someone who fears their family member or acquaintance is a threat to themselves or others.

The police can then seize the person’s weapons temporarily and bar them from buying more until a judge determines the person is no longer a risk.

Many people from all sides of the political spectrum have argued that such orders could have prevented the Parkland shooter from possessing the AR-15 rifle he used to gun down 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on February 14.

Source: American Journal of Public Health, Business Insider

Accountability standards for licensed gun dealers are also popular — 67% of gun owners support laws allowing cities to sue licensed gun dealers if there’s strong evidence that a dealer’s careless sales practices allowed criminals to obtain guns.

Brandon Wexler shows a customer one of the weapons that she was picking up at the end of the three day waiting period at the K&W Gunworks store on January 5, 2016 in Delray Beach, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Source: American Journal of Public Health

More than 60% of gun owners also support making information available to the police and public about which gun dealers sell the most guns used in crimes.

Crime scene tape surrounds Santa Fe High School on May 19, 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas. Getty Images/Scott Olsen

Source: American Journal of Public Health

There’s even relatively high support among gun owners — a solid 63% — for laws that would require people to get licenses from local law-enforcement agencies before buying guns.

Proponents of the licensing requirements argue that the measures would help verify gun buyers’ identities and ensure they’re legally allowed to own a gun.

Source: American Journal of Public Health

Another 58% of American gun owners support requirements that people lock up the guns in their home when they’re not being used, in an effort to prevent children from handling them.

A boy inspects a rifle during The International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition on September 14, 2017 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Getty Images/Francois New

Source: American Journal of Public Health

And roughly half of gun owners also approve of the current federal law that bars people under the age of 21 from buying handguns.

A convention attendee looks at a handgun at the Sig Sauer booth at the 2018 National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show on January 23, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Getty Images/Ethan Miller

There’s even support for expanding that law to include all guns – not just handguns. Shortly after the Parkland shooting in Florida, the state’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a piece of gun-control legislation that raised the age of purchase to 21 for rifles, as well.

Incensed, the NRA sued over the new law, arguing that it violates Floridians’ Second Amendment rights. The lawsuit could eventually pave the way for a legal battle over the federal law on handgun purchases.

Source: American Journal of Public Health, Associated Press

But the place where gun-owners really start to draw the line is when it comes to banning military-style, semi-automatic assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines  — just over 40% of gun owners support either ban.

Incidents like last week’s Santa Fe shooting help show why some gun owners have been reluctant to embrace such bans, arguing that the measures wouldn’t do much to prevent deadly massacres.

Authorities said the gunman who killed 10 people in his Texas high school was armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver – neither of which were so-called “assault weapons” with high-capacity magazines.

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch wasted no time pointing this out:

Another issue is that the discourse on assault weapons bans has largely devolved into a contentious debate over the very definition of an “assault weapon.”

Gun-control advocates often use the term as a catchall for all semiautomatic rifles, infuriating gun-rights advocates, who argue that term is contrived and largely meaningless.

Sources: American Journal of Public Health, Business Insider, CNBC

But despite the most contentious issues, there’s plenty of room for agreement between gun owners and non-owners about what sorts of gun-control measures are fair to law-abiding owners and help protect the public.

“Our research indicates that many policy options have wide public support and that consensus exists between gun owners and those who do not own guns,” the authors of the American Journal of Public Health study wrote.

“Given that gun issues are connected tightly to cultural and identity politics in America, it is noteworthy how much agreement we found in support for policies to regulate the ways people acquire and carry guns.”

Source: American Journal of Public Health