Views on Gun Control: A Polling Summary (POLL)

The president’s executive actions on gun control target policy elements – background checks and mental health access – that have received broad public backing. Gun control more generally, though, has seen declining support recently.

In a Pew Research poll in July, 85 percent of Americans favored background checks on all private gun sales and gun show sales – a step further than the president is set to propose. We had a very similar result in an ABC News/Washington Post poll in April 2013, with 86 percent support for background checks on gun sales at shows or online.

On mental health, in a CBS/Times poll in December, 77 percent said they thought that better access to mental health treatment and screening would do a lot or some to reduce gun violence. Considerably fewer, 50 percent, though stricter gun laws in general would achieve that goal. Further, in October, we found that the public by a very wide margin, 63-23 percent, saw mass shootings in this country more as a reflection of problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems than of inadequate gun control laws.

Support for gun control in general has diminished lately in other measures. In an ABC/Post poll in October, the public divided almost exactly evenly between giving a higher priority to protecting gun ownership rights or enacting new gun control laws, 47-46 percent. That marked a shift from early 2013, when we found a 12-point preference for new gun control laws.

Additionally, just last month, for the first time, we found majority opposition to a ban on assault weapons, 53 to 45 percent.

Among the factors informing these views are doubts about the effectiveness of gun control laws, a belief that the Constitution protects individual gun ownership, a sense that a gun in the home makes it “a safer place to be” (up very sharply from 35 percent in 2000 to 63 percent last year) and concerns about terrorism. Again in our poll last month, while 42 saw stricter gun control as the better way to deal with terrorism, 47 percent, instead, said the better approach was to encourage more Americans to carry guns legally. (Further, as a point of background – 37 percent of Americans say someone in their household owns a working gun, per a poll we did in 2013. Other surveys report slightly higher figures; we have found that those include ornamental and non-firing weapons.)

Ultimately, despite the differences on policy, gun violence is widely seen as problematic. Eighty-two percent in our October poll called it a serious problem facing the country; 58 percent, “very” serious.