PRINCETON, NJ -- A record-low 26% of Americans favor a legal ban on the
possession of handguns in the United States other than by police and other
authorized people. When Gallup first asked Americans this question in 1959,
60% favored banning handguns. But since 1975, the majority of Americans have
opposed such a measure, with opposition around 70% in recent years.
The results are based on Gallup's annual Crime poll, conducted Oct. 6-9.
This year's poll finds support for a variety of gun-control measures at
historical lows, including the ban on handguns, which is Gallup's longest
continuing gun-control trend.
For the first time, Gallup finds greater opposition to than support for a
ban on semiautomatic guns or assault rifles, 53% to 43%. In the initial
asking of this question in 1996, the numbers were nearly reversed, with 57%
for and 42% against an assault rifle ban. Congress passed such a ban in
1994, but the law expired when Congress did not act to renew it in 2004.
Around the time the law expired, Americans were about evenly divided in
Additionally, support for the broader concept of making gun laws "more
strict" is at its lowest by one percentage point (43%). Forty-four percent
prefer that gun laws be kept as they are now, while 11% favor less strict
As recently as 2007, a majority of Americans still favored stricter laws,
which had been the dominant view since Gallup first asked the question in
Americans' preference regarding gun laws is generally that the government
enforce existing laws more strictly and not pass new laws (60%) rather than
pass new gun laws in addition to stricter enforcement of existing laws
(35%). That has been the public's view since Gallup first asked the question
in 2000; the 60% this year who want stricter enforcement but no new laws is
tied for the high in the trend.
Support for Stricter Gun Laws Down Among Key Subgroups
All key subgroups show less support for stricter gun laws, and for a ban
on handguns, than they did 20 years ago. In 1991, 68% of Americans favored
stricter gun laws and 43% favored a ban on handguns. Those percentages are
43% and 26%, respectively, today.
Relatively few key subgroups favor stricter gun-control laws today,
whereas in 1991, all did. Since then, Democrats' views have shown less
change, with a 10-point decline in the percentage favoring stricter laws.
Republicans show a much larger decline of 35 points. In addition to
Democrats, majorities of Eastern residents and those without guns in their
household still favor stricter gun laws.
Democrats, Eastern residents, members of gun non-owning households, and
women were among the few subgroups to favor a ban on handguns in 1991, but
now no key subgroup has a majority in favor. Those with guns in their
household are least likely to favor a handgun ban.
Americans have shifted to a more pro-gun view on gun laws, particularly
in recent years, with record-low support for a ban on handguns, an assault
rifle ban, and stricter gun laws in general. This is the case even as
high-profile incidents of gun violence continue in the United States, such
as the January shootings at a meeting for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in
The reasons for the shift do not appear related to reactions to the crime
situation, as Gallup's Crime poll shows no major shifts in the trends in
Americans' perceptions of crime, fear of crime, or reports of being
victimized by crime in recent years. Nor does it appear to be tied to an
increase in gun ownership, which has been around 40% since 2000, though it
is a slightly higher 45% in this year's update. The 2011 updates on these
trends will appear on Gallup.com in the coming days.
Perhaps the trends are a reflection of the American public's acceptance
of guns. In 2008, Gallup found
widespread agreement with the idea that the Second Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution guarantees the right of Americans to own guns. Americans may
also be moving toward more libertarian views in some areas, one example of
greater support for legalizing marijuana use. Diminished support for
gun-control laws may also be tied to the lack of major gun-control
legislation efforts in Congress in recent years.