Dealing with gun issues in America is complicated. The public has strong feelings about guns and many are contradictory. Cultural anthropologists and sociologists cite the American experience as shaping the nation’s views on guns. It begins as European immigrants in a wilderness, and continues with the nation’s aggressive expansion across the continent. Add to the national experience, a media culture crowded with depictions of gun violence and the high rate of gun ownership (42% report being in a household with a gun, Pew, June 2017). Finally, the Second Amendment being included in the Constitution at the founding has made the gun issue a right.
Polling concerning guns must also deal with the cross currents and passion. The public’s viewpoints are affected if the questions treat the issue as gun control, gun rights or gun safety. Questions concerning a general restriction produce different results than questions focused on specifics, such as registration. And, the timing of the inquiry is critical, with the horror of a shooting causing spikes in opinions that decay quickly. And today, of course, partisanship has a major effect on Americans’ positions.
Within these challenges, it’s possible to view patterns of agreement on public policy. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, the public showed its division on a general question about stricter gun laws – 54 percent yes and 42 percent no. But on a question asking about a specific restriction, the public offered overwhelming support – 94 percent yes. A comparison of the two questions showed 39 percent of the public that opposed stricter laws, in fact, support background checks.