Guns Control Messaging

We have all learned a few things about guns and gun policy over the last 11 days since the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting. We put a poll into the field on Friday to help us think about what public sentiment and knowledge was, and how that should help shape the messaging around the policy debate. We ask some of the sentiment questions that you have been seeing all week, like this one from CNN that came out today, Sunday, February 25, but these are generally focus on moderate policy proposals. We also ask about more radical policy proposals that may be part of the debate in the years to come, if Democrats choose to broaden the discussion. And, we focus on facts, to better understand how much of the debate in the public is tied to partisan notions of the situation, and how much to the truth of the gun epidemic in the United States.

Americans underestimate how many people are killed by guns each year and Republicans by much more than Democrats. Further, they think mass shootings create a meaningful percentage of gun victims and they are not well informed on the dramatic suicide rate from guns. The debate would move with more urgency if people were more familiar with the scope and nature of the problem. That being said, there is strong support of dramatic gun safety measure including: comprehensive licencing of guns and gun owners (like we have with cars) and banning high capacity magazines. This alone would drive up cost of guns on the street and drive down casualty rate at mass shootings. And, it should comfort gun enthusiasts that there is no appetite to ban guns, just to make them safer.

PredictWise20180223_Guns of the poll ran with 1,000 Americans on Friday, February 23. The results for each question are broken down into 445 sub-demographics (including psychometric variables!) and states. Details on the method can be found here and (for more depth) here. This poll builds on monthly poll on guns, focusing on more temporal issues. We all know gun control is popular with both Democrats and Republicans, but what else should we know about today's debate?

As a good validation of our polling, 43 percent of our respondents report having a gun in their house, which is in-line with national estimates (42 percent in this recent Pew study).

We will start with the standard questions. It is critical to know that the Republicans/NRA have vigorously opposed all three of these measures. Republicans have fought hard to keep massive loopholes in the background check system, by denying funding and keeping other loopholes (e.g., short time window). You will not be surprised to know that the Republicans back NRA efforts allow domestic abusers to keep their weapons, but encourage victims to get guns to protect themselves from their armed abusers. The Republican backed "Dickey Rule" blocks the CDC from doing any research on guns. We know from cars that research can be very valuable in making things safer, without impacting the enjoyment or use of them.

"Do you support a universal national background check to buy/own any gun?" Only 7 percent oppose with 90 percent support.
"Do you support a universal national background check that would block anyone with a history of domestic abuse from gun purchases?" Only 7 percent oppose with 91 percent support.
"Do you support the federal government being able to do research on gun safety?" Only 11 percent oppose with 84 percent support.

Moving onto President Trump's new idea: arm teachers. "Should the US government encourage teachers to carry concealed weapons?" Overall 58 percent support and 36 percent oppose: 76 percent of Republican support with 54 percent of Democrats opposing. While this idea may sound reasonable, like guns in the home, armed teachers are much more likely to lead to suicides or accidental gun shots, than stop a madman with a gun.

We also ask some more stringent control measures. These are measures that would start to make a real dent in the gun violence. First, by restricting clips to 10 or less bullets, it is much harder to kill a lot of people at one time. Second, by having a universal registry of guns and gun owners, making it easy to trace all guns back to their legal sale, there will be a lot less black-market guns.

"Do you support restricting the amount of bullets that a legal gun could load to 10 or less?" 68 percent support with 82 percent support from Democrats and just 35 percent opposition from Republicans.
"Do you support a universal national registry of all guns and gun owners?" 78 percent support with 87 percent support from Democrats and just 23 percent opposition from Republicans.

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A key Republican talking point about guns is that they fight so fanatically against any restrictions to avoid a slippery slope. But, we show there is almost no support for either banning guns completely or repealing the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which guaranteed the right of civilians to own guns (to keep a well regulated Militia).

"Do you support the repeal of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution?" Just 28 percent support with 57 percent opposition from Democrats and 71 percent opposition from Republicans.
"Do you support a complete ban of privately owned guns?" Just 30 percent support with 61 percent opposition from Democrats and 76 percent opposition from Republicans.

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We like to ask fact-based questions, because they help explain the disconnect between core sentiment and both topline sentiment and action. People way underestimate the amount of gun death: that 34,000 number we all know is not that well known in the population. What is really important is that Republicans guess a drastically lower number than Democrats. Further, it is not well known that about 62 percent of gun deaths are suicide. While Republicans like to point to that number as a case against gun control (sadly, they consider this less important than homicides) I think it is a critical case for gun control. It is very clear that more people successfully commit suicide if there is a gun around, so there an easy argument that less guns would lead to less deaths.

"Roughly how many people die from gun shots each year in the US?" Answer is about 34,000. We had 42 percent answer between 0 and 20,000, and just 22 percent at 30,000 or more. But, Republicans under-count deaths by a lot more, with 47 percent at 20,000 or less.
"Roughly what percentage of people who die from gun shots each year in US commit suicide?" Most people have no idea how much suicide plays into gun deaths. 39 percent answered 20% and just 12 percent at 60%.
"Roughly what percentage of people who die from gun shots each year are victims of mass shootings?" This is tough, as we gave broad answer ranges, but the answers are roughly comparable to estimate of percent that die from suicide.
"Roughly what percentage of US households own a gun?" 52 percent of Republicans guessed 60% or more, but so did 46 percent of Democrats.
"Consider all of the guns owned by civilians worldwide, roughly what percent are owned by people in the US?" Americans slightly over-estimated this one.