Guns are deeply ingrained in American society and in American political debates.
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms and approximately one-third of American adults claim to personally own a gun. At the same time, President Joe Biden and other politicians have proposed new restrictions on gun access in an attempt to curb gun violence, which ranges from rising homicide rates in some major cities to mass shootings.
Here are some important findings about American attitudes toward gun violence, gun policy, and other issues, drawn from recent polls
About half of Americans (48%) consider gun violence a very serious problem in the country today, according to an April 2021 Pew Research Center survey. That proportion is comparable to those who say the same violent crime (48%), illegal immigration (48%), and the coronavirus epidemic (47%). Only one issue is considered a very serious problem by most Americans: the affordability of health care services (56%).
In addition, 24% of adults consider gun violence a moderately serious problem. About three in ten say it is a minor problem (22%) or not a problem (6%).
Attitudes toward gun violence vary widely by race, ethnicity, party, and type of community. About eight in ten black adults (82%) say gun violence is a very serious problem, by far the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group. By comparison, about six in ten Hispanic adults (58%) and 39% of white adults view gun violence this way. (Due to limited sample size, no data is available for Asian Americans.)
Democrats and independents with Democratic leanings are much more likely than Republicans and GOP supporters to see gun violence as a serious problem (73% versus 18%). And nearly two-thirds of Americans who describe their community as urban (65%) agree, compared to 47% of suburbanites and 35% of those living in rural areas.
About half of Americans (53%) support stricter gun laws, a drop from 2019, according to the April 2021 survey. A smaller percentage say these laws are fair (32%) or should be less strict (14%). The proportion of Americans who say gun laws should be stricter has decreased since September 2019 (60%). Current views match those of March 2017.
Other proposals bring out marked partisan divisions. While 80% or more of Democrats support creating a federal database to track all guns sales and ban assault weapons and large magazines with more than 10 rounds, most Republicans oppose these proposals.
Most Republicans, on the other hand, support allowing concealed carry in various places (72%) and allowing teachers and school employees to carry guns in elementary and high schools (66%). These proposals are supported by only 20% and 24% of Democrats, respectively.
Americans in rural areas generally support greater access to guns, while those in urban areas prefer more restrictive policies, according to the April 2021 survey. While rural areas tend to be more restrictive, urban communities more restrictive. Republicans and the most Democratic, this trend occurs even among those who identify with the same political party. For example, 71% of Republicans in rural areas support allowing teachers and other school personnel to carry guns in elementary and middle schools, compared to 56% of Republicans living in urban areas. In contrast, about half of Republicans living in urban communities (51%) support banning assault weapons, compared to 31% of those living in rural areas.
Democrats support more restrictions on guns regardless of where you live, but there are still some differences depending on the type of community. One-third of rural Democrats (33 percent), for example, support teachers and other school employees carrying guns in elementary and secondary schools, compared to 21 percent of urban Democrats.
More than four in ten American adults (44%) say they live in a home where there is a gun, and about a third (32%) say they own one, according to an October 2020 Gallup poll.
There are differences in gun ownership rates based on political party affiliation, gender, geography, and other factors. For example, half of Republicans say they personally own a gun, compared to 18% of Democrats. (Independents are counted separately in the Gallup poll. Among independents, 29% claim to personally own a gun.)
Men are twice as likely as women to own a gun (45% versus 18%), and 48% of people living in cities or rural areas say they own a gun, compared to about a quarter of people living in suburbs (25%) or cities (23%).
Federal data suggests that gun sales have increased in recent years, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, according to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the number of monthly federal background checks for gun purchases was at least 20% higher than the same month in 2019. The largest percentage increase occurred in July 2020, where approximately 3.6 million background checks were completed, a 44% increase over July 2019.
Personal protection tops the list of reasons gun owners say they own them. In another August 2019 Gallup poll, gun owners were the most likely to cite safety or personal protection as a reason for owning a gun. About six in ten (63%) said this in an open-ended question. A significantly smaller percentage gave other reasons, such as hunting (40%), a non-specific hobby or sport (11%), that their gun was an antique or family heirloom (6%), or that the gun was related to their job (5%).