- In the aftermath of the deadly shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that killed 31 people two weeks ago, the nation was once again thrust into a cyclical period of grief and calls for gun control to prevent further violence and bloodshed.
- A new INSIDER poll found that individuals who own multiple guns feel far more strongly about preserving gun rights compared to those who own one gun and everybody else.
- Its resulted in a skewed debate around gun control.
- The political spectrum for solutions on reducing gun violence may be completely misaligned.
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In the aftermath of the deadly shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that killed 31 people two weeks ago, the nation was once again thrust into a cyclical period of grief and calls for gun control to prevent further violence and bloodshed.
The fault lines along the gun control debate are familiar.
Democrats led the way with proposals for universal background checks, with some calling for another assault weapons ban. Republicans have instead pushed for a “red-flag” bill that would allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed to be dangerous by a judge.
But the political spectrum for solutions on reducing gun violence may be completely misaligned.
A new INSIDER poll found that individuals who own multiple guns feel far more strongly about preserving gun rights compared to those who own one gun and everybody else – and its resulted in a skewed debate around gun control.
Despite making up only 15% of INSIDER’s voting sample, people who owned more than one gun were far more likely harbour strong attitudes about prioritising gun rights.
In the poll, INSIDER asked over 1,100 respondents whether they were gun owners and their attitudes on gun ownership. Results showed 54% of respondents didn’t own a gun, 12% previous had a gun or there was a gun in their home that didn’t belong to them, 12% owned a gun, and 16% owned two or more firearms.
The typical fault lines of the gun debate begin to get considerably blurrier when the beliefs of these groups are scrutinised. INSIDER asked a variation of Pew Research Center’s framing of the gun debate to assess what respondents believed was more important: protecting the right of Americans to own guns or controlling gun ownership.
Setting aside the respondents unsure of their household’s gun ownership or their feelings on gun rights, 43% per cent of overall respondents favoured gun control over protecting gun rights, 30% thought they were of equal importance, and 27% favoured protecting gun rights over controlling access to it.
Diving deeper, 25% of respondents “strongly” thought controlling guns was more important and 17% strongly prioritised gun rights.
Not all gun owners have similar attitudes – and those who own multiple guns have outsize influence in the gun debate
The results revealed an interesting pattern: Despite gun-rights groups framing their cause on behalf of all gun owners, the beliefs of people who own a gun, or have a gun in their home, or previously owned a gun tend to be considerably more nuanced.
- While those who don’t own guns or have them in their homes represented 58% of respondents, they represented 75% of those who strongly favoured gun control over gun rights.
- Conversely, those who owned several guns represented just 16% of the population but constituted a disproportionate 33% of the group who strongly favoured gun rights over controlling ownership.
- Meanwhile, single-gun households or people who live in homes where someone else owns a gun don’t have those same disproportionate results at all.
- Overall 7% of respondents didn’t own a gun but there was one in their household. They constituted an expected 7% of the pro-gun right group, 5% of the pro-control, and 7% of the equally important believers. They were no more or less likely to favour one or the other.
- Further, 8% previously owned a gun but no longer did, and the effect was the same: they were 7% of the pro-control believers, 8% of the pro-rights, and 11% of the equally importants.
- People who owned a single gun skewed a little more towards favouring gun rights, but bearing in mind the 3% margin of error it’s not a substantial shift. Single gun owners were 13% of respondents, 11% of the pro-control crowd, 17% of the pro-rights crowd, and 14% of the equally important group. They are essentially right in line with what would be anticipated.
In short, people who own a gun or previously owned one shouldn’t be assumed to automatically form a constituency for organisations like the National Rifle Association, which staunchly advocates for unfettered gun rights. While many do share that view, only one-fifth of people who own one gun strongly favour protecting the right to own a firearm over controlling ownership.
Single-firearm owners or households are much more a swing constituency than one would otherwise expect. The NRA would be mistaken to assume support from members of this group, and gun control-advocates would be remiss in ignoring their existence.
Most Americans favour some form of gun control
The INSIDER data supports a trend the Pew Research Center researched in 2017. In one of the most authoritative studies on gun attitudes yet, it found that most Americans favour some form of gun control and don’t espouse the hardline attitudes of the NRA, which has thwarted congressional efforts to regulate access to firearms.
The Pew study also found roughly one-in-five gun owners are NRA members and about 48% of white men own guns. Almost three-quarters of male gun owners reported owning more than one gun, compared to 53% of female gun owners.
However, partisan rifts emerge depending on the aggressiveness of the proposal to restrict gun rights. Ideas like universal background checks have overwhelming support among both Democrats and Republicans, but others like a 1994-style assault weapons ban doesn’t draw substantial support among Republicans.
The dynamic also presents a political risk for Democrats in white rural areas who have long relied on votes from working-class gun owners, a group that’s more likely to cast a ballot on the issue, according to The New York Times. And a 2018 study from political scientists at the University of Kansas found gun owners have become more active politically since the early 1970s, helping explain their outsized influence on gun politics.
Gun owners are also more likely to tie their sense of freedom to owning a gun, with 74% citing it as an essential right, as the 2017 Pew study found.
America’s enduring connection with guns has set it apart from other developed nations in two key ways: It has among the highest rates of gun ownership in the world -and far higher rates of gun deaths compared to other wealthy countries. Mass shootings have repeatedly thrust the gun debate to the fore over the last decade, though they make up a sliver of gun deaths.
As the country wrestles with a policy approach to reducing gun violence, lawmakers should be conscious that the spectrum for solutions could be recalibrated to account for the views of everybody else instead of multiple gun owners.
SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. Total 1114 respondents collected August 11, 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 3.01 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.