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Little Difference Between Gun Owners, Nongun Owners on Key Gun Policies, Survey Finds

A new national public opinion survey from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds widespread agreement among gun owners and nongun owners in their support for policies that restrict or regulate firearms.

The survey measured support for 24 different gun policies and found minimal gaps in support between gun owners and nongun owners for 15 (63%) of the policies. For 23 of the 24 policies examined, the majority of respondents supported gun restrictions or regulations, including requiring a background check on every gun sale (universal background check) and prohibiting a person subject to a temporary domestic violence restraining order from having a gun for the duration of the order.

The survey was fielded in January 2017 and is the third National Survey of Gun Policy conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. Researchers used National Opinion Research Center's AmeriSpeaks online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The study sample included 2,124 adults (602 gun owners, 1,522 nongun owners) ages 18 years and older.

The findings were published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

In 2016 in the United States, firearms were responsible for more than 38,000 deaths and over 116,000 nonfatal gunshot wounds treated in hospitals. The United States continues to debate measures at both the state and federal levels that seek to address gun violence.

The policies with the highest overall public support and minimal support, by gun ownership status included universal background checks (85.3% gun owners, 88.7% nongun owners support), license suspension for gun dealers who cannot account for 20 or more guns in their inventory (82.1% gun owners and 85.7% nongun owners support), higher safety training standards for concealed-carry permit holders (83% gun owners and 85.3% nongun owners support), improved reporting of records related to mental illness for background checks (83.9% gun owners and 83.5% nongun owners support), gun prohibitions for people subject to temporary domestic violence restraining orders (76.9% of gun owners and 82.3% nongun owners support), and gun violence restraining orders, which are commonly referred to as extreme risk protection orders or Red Flag laws (74.6% of gun owners and 80.3% nongun owners support).

"Policies with high overall support among both gun owners and nongun owners may be the most feasible to enact, and some have strong evidence to support their ability to reduce gun violence," says lead author Colleen Barry, PhD, MPP, Fred and Julie Soper Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Widespread claims that a chasm separates gun owners from nongun owners in their support for gun safety policies distracts attention from many areas of genuine agreement—areas that can lead to policy solutions and result in the prevention of gun violence."

The survey also found several points of disagreement between gun owners and nongun owners. Nine of the 24 policies examined had greater than 10-point support gaps. However, more than one-half of gun owners still favor several of these policies to restrict or regulate guns. These include requiring that a person lock up guns in the home when not in use to prevent access by youth (58% of gun owners and 78.9% of nongun owners support), allowing information about which particular gun dealers sell the most guns that are then used in crimes to be available to the police and public (62.9% of gun owners and 73.4% of nongun owners support), requiring a person to obtain a license from local law enforcement before buying a gun (63.1% of gun owners and 81.3% of nongun owners support), and allowing cities to sue gun dealers when there is evidence that the dealer's practices allow criminals to obtain guns (66.7% of gun owners and 77.9% of nongun owners support).

Two survey questions on concealed carry were new in the 2017 survey. Results show that 25.1% of respondents (42.6% of gun owners and 19.3% of nongun owners) believe a person who can legally carry a gun should be allowed to bring that gun onto K–12 school grounds, and 84.7% of respondents (83% of gun owners and 85.3% of nongun owners) believe that a person who can legally carry a concealed gun should be required to pass a test demonstrating they can safely handle the gun in common situations they may encounter.

"There is data supporting the efficacy of many of the policies with wide support among both gun owners and those who don't own guns," says study coauthor Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. "Relatively few states have these laws in place. This signals an opportunity for policy makers to enact policies which are both evidence-based and widely supported."

"Public Support for Gun Violence Prevention Policies Among Gun Owners and Non-Gun Owners in 2017" was written by Colleen L. Barry, PhD, MPP; Daniel W. Webster, ScD, MPH; Elizabeth Stone, BMus; Cassandra K. Crifasi, PhD, MPH; Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH; and Emma E. McGinty, PhD, MS. All researchers are with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, with the exception of Stone, who is with the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Source: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health