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77% of Americans Feel Firearm Rights Should Come with Some Restrictions; 14% Favor No Limitations

Percentage of Americans favoring stricter gun control, in decline since 1998, rises for the first time

NEW YORK, April 1, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Seldom has a sentence in the English language proved more divisive and controversial than the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. While both the pro- and anti-gun movements frequently take to the airwaves with equally strident and dogmatic representatives, it may surprise some to find that, in fact majorities of Americans – across party lines, no less –agree on the middle ground that gun ownership should be legal – but not without some restrictions.

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These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,266 adults surveyed online between February 12 and 17, 2014. This look at the Second Amendment is the second part of an ongoing series examining American attitudes towards the Bill of Rights, both collectively and at an amendment-by-amendment level. (Complete results, including data tables and full trends since 1998, available here)

Rights and Regulations
When presented with the text of the Second Amendment and asked whether it does or does not support a series of rights and regulatory powers, strong majorities believe it supports a state militia's right to own firearms (74%), any citizen's right to own firearms (68%) and a state's right to form a militia (65%).

A slim majority (55%) also believes it grants states the right to regulate the ownership of firearms among its militia, while half (50%) believe it empowers states to regulate firearm ownership among its citizens overall.

Majorities feel the Second Amendment does not support a private citizen's right to form a militia (64%), the federal government's right to regulate who can own firearms (59%) or the federal government's right to regulate state militias (54%).

  • As might be expected, Republicans are consistently more likely than Democrats to feel the amendment supports gun ownership and militia formation rights (such as a state's right to form a militia: 69% each Rep and Ind. vs. 59% Dem), while Democrats are more likely to feel it supports state and federal regulatory powers (such as a state's right to regulate firearm ownership among its citizens: 58% Dem vs. 43% Rep and 49% Ind.).
  • Independents largely stray closer to Republican stances on many aspects of this issue, though they skew more to the middle ground when it comes to whether the amendment supports any citizen's right to own firearms (85% Rep vs. 73% Ind. vs. 54% Dem) and the federal government's right to regulate who can own firearms (26% vs. 38% vs. 56%, respectively).

Limits to liberty
Straying from absolutes, when provided with three separate statements, a vast majority of Americans (77%) – including two-thirds (68%) of Conservatives and three-fourths (75%) of Republicans – feel that Americans should be allowed to purchase and/or own firearms, with some restrictions. Only 14% believe Americans should be allowed to purchase and/or own them without limitation (though the 22% Rep vs. 15% Ind. vs. 5% Dem split is noteworthy), while just one in ten (9%) feel Americans should not be able to purchase and/or own firearms.

More specifically, when presented with a list of possible restrictions and asked which, if any, represent reasonable limits on firearm purchases and/or ownership, majorities across party lines see many possible measures as reasonable limits. Over three-fourths of Americans believe that both restricting firearm sales to felons convicted of violent crimes (79%) and confiscating firearms owned by felons convicted of violent crimes (78%) represent reasonable limits; this also holds true for background checks for all firearm sales (78%), and restricting firearm sales to individuals diagnosed as mentally ill (77%).

Roughly seven in ten see restricting firearm sales to all convicted felons (71%) and confiscating firearms owned by individuals diagnosed as mentally ill (69%), while two-thirds (66%) feel it's reasonable to confiscate firearms owned by all convicted felons.

Just over half of Americans (53%) see a national registry of firearm owners as reasonable, while roughly half say the same of outlawing fully automatic firearms (49%). Fewer Americans favor limiting either clip sizes (41%) or the number of firearms an individual can own (34%).

  • Of interest is the fact that even among those who feel the right to purchase and/or own firearms should be without limit, strong majorities see restricting firearm sales to violent felons (65%) and the mentally ill (64%), as well as confiscating firearms owned by felons convicted of violent crimes (64%) as represent reasonable limits.
  • However, far fewer feel the same way about background checks for all firearm sales (43%) and a national registry of firearm owners (19%), creating something of a disconnect – how to restrict sales to such individuals without identifying them with background checks; how to confiscate firearms without knowing where they are via a national registry.

Percentage favoring stricter gun control on the rise
From 1998 to 2010, the percentage of Americans favoring stricter gun control fell steadily from 69% in 1998 to 45% in 2010. In the four years since that low point, this trajectory appears to have begun a reversal, rising for the first time, to 51%.

  • The vast majority of Democrats favor stricter gun control (76%, vs. 3% who say less strict and 14% who say neither), as does a plurality of Independents (47%, vs. 20% and 25%, respectively). Republicans, meanwhile, are split evenly between feeling gun control should be stricter, less strict and neither (30% each).

Looking specifically at laws related to control of hand guns, 52% of Americans feel such laws should be stricter while 17% say they should be less strict and 22% say neither. Though the percentage favoring stricter laws represents only a slight rise from 50% in 2010, this is again the first time since 1998 that this percentage has not declined.

To view the full findings, or to see other recent Harris Polls, please visit the Harris Poll News Room.

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Methodology
This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 12 and 17, 2014 among 2,266 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #30, April 1, 2014
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll
On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll.  Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.

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SOURCE The Harris Poll

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