The latest polling shows a drop in support for stricter gun laws coinciding with a jump in gun ownership. But how strongly are those trends connected, and will they continue in the same direction?
Gallup released a poll on Monday that shows a nine-point decline in support for “more strict” gun laws. It also found 46 percent of Americans now report having a gun in their home or on their property, a decade-high.
Both of these outcomes are in line with expectations.
With two years of record gun sales and dealer surveys that indicate many of those sales were to first-time buyers, you’d expect a noticeable increase in the number of people telling pollsters they have a gun in their homes. The Associated Press first identified an increase to 46 percent of adults, or about 118 million Americans, earlier this year. And now Gallup is seeing the exact same thing.
With six months passing since the horrific killing spree at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a subsequent surge in support for new gun restrictions, you’d expect to see that support begin to wane. Past high-profile mass shootings have led to a cycle that starts with a sharp increase in gun-control support followed by a steep, but not complete, decline. And Gallup found that was the case this time as well.
A myriad of past polling has shown gun owners are significantly more opposed to tightening gun restrictions than non-gun owners. So, even though Gallup doesn’t break out the differences between the two groups in this poll, there is reason to believe some of the decrease in gun-control support is due to more gun owners. That’s especially true given the rise of new owners from demographics that have traditionally been more supportive of gun-control policies, including many women and minorities.
But there are also good reasons to believe the downturn in enthusiasm for stricter gun laws may not last long. For one, gun sales have slowed significantly since 2020. They remain higher than in the pre-pandemic era, but we’re no longer seeing millions of new gun owners minted each year. So, the effect on the country’s overall attitude toward guns will be more limited until sales jump again.
Additionally, Gallup’s poll was conducted in October. That’s before the recent spat of high-profile killings at the University of Virginia, Colorado Springs, and a Virginia Walmart. Those could cause a similar spike in support for new restrictions as Uvalde did, especially given how they happened in quick succession.
Beyond those two factors, the long history of Gallup’s polling on these questions provides insight into how connected they’ve traditionally been. And there hasn’t been a strong correlation there. In the early 1990s, when gun ownership hovered between 47 and 51 percent, support for stricter gun laws hovered between 67 and 78 percent. As gun ownership rates fell into the high thirties and low forties during the early 2000s, support for more gun restrictions didn’t increase. In fact, it decreased to between 50 and 60 percent.
By the 2010s, the two measures became fairly disconnected. As the number of Americans reporting a gun in their home stayed relatively stable, the number supporting stricter gun laws cratered. By 2011, only 43 percent wanted more restrictions, and more said they felt gun laws should be kept as they are. By the decade’s end, though, gun control grew more popular, peaking at 67 percent in 2018.
Perhaps things will be different this time. Maybe other polls will show a closer correlation between gun ownership and gun-control support. But Gallup is one of the only pollsters with results reaching back decades. And their results indicate the connection between gun ownership and gun politics isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.