The shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and, most recently, at the Family Research Council offices in Washington D.C., have reinvigorated the national debate over gun control, an issue that divides Americans, by party, region, gender, religion, and race. The August PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey reveals that, overall, a slim majority (52%) of Americans favor passing stricter gun control laws, while 44% are opposed. There is however broad public support for stricter enforcement of existing gun control laws (67%), while only about one-quarter (26%) of Americans favor loosening current gun control laws.
Americans are also divided about who should be in charge of setting gun control policy. About half (46%) of the public believe gun control is something that should be decided at the national level, while around half (51%) say it should be left up to the states. And there is little consensus about the best way to prevent mass shootings. Nearly 3-in-10 (27%) Americans say that stricter gun control laws and enforcement is the most important steps that can be taken to prevent mass shootings, roughly 1-in-5 say that better mental health screening and support (22%), and placing a greater emphasis on God and morality (20%) are the best preventive measures, while slightly more than 1-in-10 say that stricter security measures at public events and allowing more private citizens to carry guns are the most important steps that could be taken.
There is greater consensus about the relative importance of the 2nd Amendment. Overall, two-thirds (68%) of Americans also believe that the constitutional right to own and carry a gun is as important as other constitutional rights, like freedom of speech or freedom of the press. But the intensity of this belief is highly determined by gun ownership. Nearly 9-in-10 (89%) gun owners agree that the constitutional right to carry a gun is as important as other constitutional rights, compared to only 55% of non-gun owners.
There is also greater agreement about the restrictions that should be applied to carrying a firearm. More than 7-in-10 Americans believe people should not be allowed to carry a concealed gun in a church or place of worship (76%), in a government building (73%), or on a college campus (77%).
It’s difficult to assess how the recent shootings will affect public opinion on this issue, particularly because there is no agreement on how they can be prevented. What seems clear is that while the public is believes that the constitutional right to carry and own a gun is important, they appear comfortable with placing restrictions on this right.