77% of Americans Feel Firearm Rights Should Come with Some Restrictions; 14% Favor No Limitations

    New York , N.Y. – April 1, 2014 – A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. Seldom has a sentence in the English language proved more divisive and controversial than the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. While both the pro- and anti-gun movements frequently take to the airwaves with equally strident and dogmatic representatives, it may surprise some to find that, in fact majorities of Americans – across party lines, no less – agree on the middle ground that gun ownership should be legal – but not without some restrictions.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,266 adults surveyed online between February 12 and 17, 2014. This look at the Second Amendment is the second part of an ongoing series examining American attitudes towards the Bill of Rights, both collectively and at an amendment-by-amendment level.

    Rights and Regulations

    When presented with the text of the Second Amendment and asked whether it does or does not support a series of rights and regulatory powers, strong majorities believe it supports a state militia’s right to own firearms (74%), any citizen’s right to own firearms (68%) and a state’s right to form a militia (65%).

    A slim majority (55%) also believes it grants states the right to regulate the ownership of firearms among its militia, while half (50%) believe it empowers states to regulate firearm ownership among its citizens overall.

    Majorities feel the Second Amendment does not support a private citizen’s right to form a militia (64%), the federal government’s right to regulate who can own firearms (59%) or the federal government’s right to regulate state militias (54%).

    • As might be expected, Republicans are consistently more likely than Democrats to feel the amendment supports gun ownership and militia formation rights (such as a state’s right to form a militia: 69% each Rep and Ind. vs. 59% Dem), while Democrats are more likely to feel it supports state and federal regulatory powers (such as a state’s right to regulate firearm ownership among its citizens: 58% Dem vs. 43% Rep and 49% Ind.).
    • Independents largely stray closer to Republican stances on many aspects of this issue, though they skew more to the middle ground when it comes to whether the amendment supports any citizen’s right to own firearms (85% Rep vs. 73% Ind. vs. 54% Dem) and the federal government’s right to regulate who can own firearms (26% vs. 38% vs. 56%, respectively).

    Limits to liberty

    Straying from absolutes, when provided with three separate statements, a vast majority of Americans (77%) – including two-thirds (68%) of Conservatives and three-fourths (75%) of Republicans – feel that Americans should be allowed to purchase and/or own firearms with some restrictions. Only 14% believe Americans should be allowed to purchase and/or own them without limitation (though the 22% Rep vs. 15% Ind. vs. 5% Dem split is noteworthy), while just one in ten (9%) feel Americans should not be able to purchase and/or own firearms.

    More specifically, when presented with a list of possible restrictions and asked which, if any, represent reasonable limits on firearm purchases and/or ownership, majorities across party lines see many possible measures as reasonable limits. Over three-fourths of Americans believe that both restricting firearm sales to felons convicted of violent crimes (79%) and confiscating firearms owned by felons convicted of violent crimes (78%) represent reasonable limits; this also holds true for background checks for all firearm sales (78%), and restricting firearm sales to individuals diagnosed as mentally ill (77%).

    Roughly seven in ten see restricting firearm sales to all convicted felons (71%) and confiscating firearms owned by individuals diagnosed as mentally ill (69%), while two-thirds (66%) feel it’s reasonable to confiscate firearms owned by all convicted felons.

    Just over half of Americans (53%) see a national registry of firearm owners as reasonable, while roughly half say the same of outlawing fully automatic firearms (49%). Fewer Americans favor limiting either clip sizes (41%) or the number of firearms an individual can own (34%).

    • Of interest is the fact that even among those who feel the right to purchase and/or own firearms should be without limit, strong majorities see restricting firearm sales to violent felons (65%) and the mentally ill (64%), as well as confiscating firearms owned by felons convicted of violent crimes (64%) as represent reasonable limits.
    • However, far fewer feel the same way about background checks for all firearm sales (43%) and a national registry of firearm owners (19%), creating something of a disconnect – how to restrict sales to such individuals without identifying them with background checks; how to confiscate firearms without knowing where they are via a national registry.

    Percentage favoring stricter gun control on the rise

    From 1998 to 2010, the percentage of Americans favoring stricter gun control fell steadily from 69% in 1998 to 45% in 2010. In the four years since that low point, this trajectory appears to have begun a reversal, rising for the first time, to 51%.

    • The vast majority of Democrats favor stricter gun control (76%, vs. 3% who say less strict and 14% who say neither), as does a plurality of Independents (47%, vs. 20% and 25%, respectively). Republicans, meanwhile, are split evenly between feeling gun control should be stricter, less strict and neither (30% each).

    Looking specifically at laws related to control of hand guns, 52% of Americans feel such laws should be stricter while 17% say they should be less strict and 22% say neither. Though the percentage favoring stricter laws represents only a slight rise from 50% in 2010, this is again the first time since 1998 that this percentage has not declined.

     

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    TABLE 1a

    PERCEIVED AS SUPPORTED/NOT SUPPORTED BY SECOND AMENDMENT

    Please read the following passage: ‘A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.’ Now, for each of the following, please indicate whether you feel the passage does or does not support it.

    Base: U.S. Adults

     

    Supports this

    Does not support this

    A state militia’s right to own firearms

    %

    74

    26

    Any citizen’s right to own firearms

    %

    68

    32

    A state’s right to form a militia

    %

    65

    35

    A state’s right to regulate the ownership of firearms among its militia

    %

    55

    45

    A state’s right to regulate firearm ownership among its citizens

    %

    50

    50

    The federal government’s right to regulate state militias

    %

    46

    54

    The federal government’s right to regulate who can own firearms

    %

    41

    59

    A private citizen’s right to form a militia

    %

    36

    64

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 1b

    PERCEIVED AS SUPPORTED BY THE SECOND AMENDMENT

    Supports This Responses by Political Party & Political Ideology

    Please read the following passage: ‘A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.’ Now, for each of the following, please indicate whether you feel the passage does or does not support it.

    Base: U.S. Adults

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Ideology

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    A state militia’s right to own firearms

    74

    79

    70

    77

    78

    74

    67

    Any citizen’s right to own firearms

    68

    85

    54

    73

    82

    68

    53

    A state’s right to form a militia

    65

    69

    59

    69

    71

    63

    63

    A state’s right to regulate the ownership of firearms among its militia

    55

    49

    62

    54

    45

    57

    64

    A state’s right to regulate firearm ownership among its citizens

    50

    43

    58

    49

    38

    53

    58

    The federal government’s right to regulate state militias

    46

    33

    62

    39

    27

    51

    58

    The federal government’s right to regulate who can own firearms

    41

    26

    56

    38

    19

    45

    58

    A private citizen’s right to form a militia

    36

    45

    23

    40

    42

    35

    29


    TABLE 2

    FIREARMS OWNERSHIP BELIEFS

    By Political Party & Political Ideology

    Which of the following most closely fits with your beliefs?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Ideology

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Americans should be allowed to purchase and/or own firearms, without limitation.

    14

    22

    5

    15

    27

    11

    4

    Americans should be allowed to purchase and/or own firearms, with some restrictions.

    77

    75

    82

    76

    68

    81

    80

    Americans should not be allowed to purchase and/or own firearms.

    9

    3

    12

    8

    6

    8

    16

    Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

     

    TABLE 3a

    RESTRICTIONS SEEN AS REASONABLE LIMITS ON FIREARMS PURCHASES/OWNERSHIP

    By Generation, Gender, Children in Household

    Which of the following, if any, do you believe represent reasonable limits on firearm purchases and/or ownership?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Restrict firearm sales to felons convicted of violent crimes

    79

    70

    78

    83

    90

    78

    80

    Background checks for all firearm sales

    78

    70

    78

    81

    84

    74

    81

    Confiscate firearms owned by felons convicted of violent crimes

    78

    66

    76

    84

    91

    75

    80

    Restrict firearm sales to individuals diagnosed as mentally ill

    77

    65

    75

    83

    91

    76

    77

    Restrict firearm sales to all convicted felons

    71

    60

    67

    78

    86

    70

    73

    Confiscate firearms owned by individuals diagnosed as mentally ill (to be returned upon receipt of a clean bill of mental health)

    69

    59

    67

    75

    81

    69

    69

    Confiscate firearms owned by all convicted felons

    66

    52

    62

    76

    82

    64

    68

    National registry of firearm owners

    53

    54

    51

    52

    54

    47

    58

    Outlaw fully automatic firearms

    49

    39

    46

    54

    64

    48

    51

    Limit clip sizes

    41

    33

    37

    46

    54

    40

    43

    Limit number of firearms an individual can own

    34

    34

    31

    33

    39

    29

    39

    Something else

    6

    9

    6

    5

    3

    8

    5

    None of the above

    5

    8

    6

    4

    1

    5

    5

    Note: Multiple responses allowed

     

    TABLE 3b

    RESTRICTIONS SEEN AS REASONABLE LIMITS ON FIREARMS PURCHASES/OWNERSHIP

    By Political Party & Political Ideology

    Which of the following, if any, do you believe represent reasonable limits on firearm purchases and/or ownership?

    Base: U.S. Adults

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Ideology

    Believe Americans should be able to buy/own firearmsÉ

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Cons.

    Mod.

    Lib.

    w/o Limitation

    w/ Some Restrictions

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Restrict firearm sales to felons convicted of violent crimes

    79

    82

    78

    82

    82

    78

    78

    65

    83

    Background checks for all firearm sales

    78

    75

    87

    75

    72

    78

    83

    43

    84

    Confiscate firearms owned by felons convicted of violent crimes

    78

    78

    78

    79

    79

    77

    78

    64

    82

    Restrict firearm sales to individuals diagnosed as mentally ill

    77

    76

    78

    78

    77

    75

    80

    64

    81

    Restrict firearm sales to all convicted felons

    71

    76

    71

    71

    74

    71

    69

    52

    76

    Confiscate firearms owned by individuals diagnosed as mentally ill (to be returned upon receipt of a clean bill of mental health)

    69

    66

    72

    72

    68

    69

    71

    48

    74

    Confiscate firearms owned by all convicted felons

    66

    68

    70

    65

    69

    65

    66

    43

    71

    National registry of firearm owners

    53

    44

    67

    48

    40

    55

    65

    19

    58

    Outlaw fully automatic firearms

    49

    37

    60

    50

    37

    50

    65

    9

    55

    Limit clip sizes

    41

    29

    55

    40

    26

    44

    56

    5

    46

    Limit number of firearms an individual can own

    34

    19

    50

    31

    19

    35

    50

    4

    36

    Something else

    6

    3

    6

    7

    4

    5

    11

    2

    6

    None of the above

    5

    3

    4

    5

    4

    5

    6

    11

    3

    Note: Multiple responses allowed

     

    TABLE 4

    FAVOR STRICTER OR LESS STRICT GUN CONTROL

    In general, would you say you favor stricter gun control, or less strict gun control?

    Base: All Adults

    1998

    1999

    2000

    2004

    2008

    2010

    2014

    Political Party

    Gender

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Stricter

    69

    63

    63

    52

    49

    45

    51

    30

    76

    47

    47

    55

    Less strict

    23

    25

    28

    22

    20

    26

    17

    30

    3

    20

    20

    14

    Neither

    7

    10

    6

    20

    21

    20

    23

    30

    14

    25

    26

    21

    Don’t know/Refused

    1

    2

    4

    7

    10

    10

    8

    10

    7

    7

    7

    10

    There was a change in the question in 2004. In the previous surveys neither was not offered as a possible response but was accepted if given. In this new survey it was offered as a possible response.

    Note: Percentages may not add to 100% because of rounding

     

    TABLE 5

    FAVOR STRICTER OR LESS STRICT CONTROLLING HAND GUNS

    In general, would you say you favor stricter or less strict laws relating to the control of hand guns?

    Base: All Adults

    1998

    1999

    2000

    2004

    2008

    2010

    2014

    Political Party

    Gender

    Rep.

    Dem.

    Ind.

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Stricter

    76

    73

    72

    57

    54

    50

    52

    35

    75

    45

    48

    56

    Less strict

    19

    20

    20

    18

    18

    23

    17

    29

    5

    21

    21

    14

    Neither

    5

    5

    6

    19

    18

    19

    22

    26

    12

    26

    24

    20

    Don’t know/Refused

     

    2

    2

    6

    10

    8

    9

    10

    8

    8

    8

    11

    There is a change in the question in 2004. In the previous surveys neither was not offered as a possible response but was accepted if given. In this new survey it was offered as a possible response.

    Note: Percentages may not add to 100% because of rounding.

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,266 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

    Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    The Harris Poll #30, April 1, 2014

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager