Public Opinion on Gun Control

03 Jul, 2015

Catalyzed by the recurring horror of mass shootings, the American public constantly reconsiders the efficacy of current restrictions on gun ownership. While the tragic massacres such as Sandy Hook, or the recent rampage in South Carolina spark public discourse about the prevalence of gun violence in the United States, discussions typically portray the opposing stances on gun control as a clash between Republican/Democrats or Liberal/Conservatives. As such, Americans tend to conceptualize the matter in primarily political terms–with Democrats supporting more stringent restrictions and Republicans opposing such measures.

Although ideological differences exist and are growing, a vast majority of Americans–according to annual questionnaires conducted by the General Social Survey–support a law requiring individuals to obtain a police permit before purchasing a gun. Although public opinion fluctuates based on political, religious, and other demographics and in response to major mass shootings or presidential politics; there appears to be a majority bipartisan desire to establish certain level of gun control—at least as measured by response to this question in the GSS *:

Gunlaw: Would you favor or oppose a law which would require a person to obtain a police permit before he or she could buy a gun?

The interactive visualizations below provide trends in “% Who favor a law requiring Police Permits to Buy Gun” in relation to various demographics. 

Flipping through the various combinations in the figures below, one needs to dig deep to find examples of demographic blocks (e.g. Republican– gun owner– living in the South– after Obama presidency) where the support drops below 50%. In a country where popular votes in presidential elections rarely exceed 1-2% points over 50, the numbers below suggest a strong bipartisan desire to establish at least some level of gun control in the US.


Figure 1: Time Trends in  “% who favor a Law requiring police permits to buy Gun”

Figure 2: Compare Demographics by Political Era

Pick a different demographic for Axis & Color. Use filter to subset by Gun Ownership

Figure 3: Trends by US Census Regions

(*) This Pew article provides an interesting perspective in gauging nuances of public opinion




Appendix: Analyze all gun related questions in GSS (1972 – 2014)


Q1): Do you happen to have in your home (IF HOUSE: or garage) any guns or revolvers? (% own Gun)

Q2): Do you (or does your [husband/wife]) go hunting? (% Hunter)

Q3): Would you favor or oppose a law which would require a person to obtain a police permit before he or she could buy a gun?  (% Favor Gun Law)


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