Attendees at the 2023 NRA Annual Meeting examine guns on display
Attendees at the 2023 NRA Annual Meeting examine guns on display / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Flurry of Recent Polls Show More Americans Embracing Guns [Member Exclusive]

New polling indicates supporters of armed self-defense are currently winning the cultural battle.

An NBC News poll released this week found that 52 percent of registered voters now say they or someone in their home owns a gun. That’s up eight points from just four years ago when the pollster last surveyed the voting public. It’s up ten points from just a decade ago. It also represents the highest-ever percentage of voters with a gun in the home since the question was asked in 1999.

It’s a remarkable finding for a couple of reasons.

For one, it provides additional evidence that the recent record-setting pace of gun sales has been at least partially the result of new gun owners. Industry survey data previously suggested that millions of Americans became first-time gun buyers in 2020 and 2021, yet that surge was hard to spot in major media polling early on. The NBC data now add to a growing list of polls to have recently found a significant jump in reported ownership.

Additionally, the poll underlines the normality of gun ownership in American culture. Despite prominent efforts from activists and other political figures to make guns less desirable or available, gun ownership continues to be seen as normal, and normal people continue to own guns. So much so that more than half of the electorate now lives in a gun-owning home.

The shift towards gun ownership has been particularly stark among a number of demographics that have traditionally owned guns at a lower-than-average rate. It found that 41 percent of Black voters now say they or someone they live with owns a gun, up 17 percentage points from 2019. It also found that 4-in-10 Democrats now say they live in a gun-owning household as well, up 11 points in the last decade.

Now, one thing that the NBC News poll didn’t ask was why so many more voters decided to become gun owners. It stands to reason that since the uptick in reported gun ownership coincided with the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, subsequent bouts of civil unrest, and a sharp uptick in violent crime across the country beginning in 2020, self-defense concerns were a likely driver. That would match up with the prevailing reason most gun owners have given over the last several years for why they decided to purchase a firearm.

Several other recent polls also support the idea that Americans are continuing to embrace the role of firearms ownership for self-defense purposes.

The latest polling from Marquette University Law School on the Supreme Court’s performance, published last week, found that 67 percent of Americans now say they favor the Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. That represents a modest increase in support for a decision that has already consistently enjoyed majority support in the poll since it was handed down last June.

Importantly, the way the pollster gauged support for the ruling honed in on Americans’ attitudes toward firearms for self-defense.

“In 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that, subject to some restrictions, the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” the university told respondents.” How much do you favor or oppose this decision?”

That phrasing leaves little room for open interpretation. While one could reasonably wonder whether an uptick of Americans reporting having a gun in the home is the result of defensive concerns versus other activities like sport shooting or hunting, a question directed at support for public gun carry is much more on the nose. And it wasn’t the only recent survey to measure strong public support for firearms and self-protection.

The November edition of the monthly polling from Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies (CAPS) and Harris Insights and Analytics was released on Monday. It found that 63 percent of voters said they felt the need to have a gun in case of being attacked by criminals. By contrast, just 37 percent said they thought owning a gun was unnecessary.

77 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents said they felt the need to own a firearm. But even 54 percent of Democrats agreed with that sentiment. 

However, recent polling also reveals points of concern for gun-rights advocates.

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll found guns rate fourth on the list of “most important issues facing the country today” among its sample of 2,851 registered voters. 18 percent of voters rate it as their top issue, trailing only inflation, immigration, and the economy in order of importance. Presumably, not all 18 percent of those respondents are single-issue gun rights maximalists, and past polling has tended to show a relationship between rising support for gun control as voter concern over guns and gun violence increases.

The NBC News poll, despite documenting a large rise in gun ownership, found voters were still more concerned that the government wouldn’t  do enough to regulate guns rather than do too much to undermine gun rights. It’s a tension that tracks with earlier data from Gallup. That poll found that two-thirds of Americans say having a gun in the home makes it a safer place to be in the same poll that recorded majority support for stricter gun laws.

In other words, while armed self-defense appears to be thoroughly–and increasingly–embraced by the American people, that has not yet translated to overwhelming public rejection of current–or even fiture–gun restrictions.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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