Public opinion polls and peer-reviewed survey research point to one of the great paradoxes of American life: guns are everywhere, but the average person doesn’t seem to know much about them. With mass shootings occurring in the United States at rates not seen in other Western industrialized countries, Americans remain puzzled nonetheless about why they occur with such regularity here. To get a sense of what passes for common knowledge, one poll by NPR/Ipsos found that less than 10 percent of Americans were able to answer seven out of 10 questions on gun violence correctly.
In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, Ipsos Public Affairs President Cliff Young said, “what we know actually is that gun violence like this typically has a short-term effect on public opinion where there’s a crystallizing event” that temporarily bumps support for gun control upward”(Kurtzleben).
Gun control remains a contested “hot-button” issue in the United States. Not surprisingly, political party identification has a big impact on public opinion on the topic of guns. Thus, pollsters find that while Republicans and Democrats alike support specific restrictions, the general idea of tighter gun control is much more firmly supported by Democrats than anyone else — 84 percent of Democrats said gun laws should be “a lot” or “somewhat” stricter than today, compared to 61 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans (Kurtzleben).
Here’s a quick summary of findings:
One-third of Republicans said gun laws right now are “about right,” compared to 23 percent of independents and just 9 percent of Democrats.
Partisan differences also showed up in exposure to guns — significantly more Republicans than Democrats have fired guns, own guns and have friends who own them, the survey shows.
And that dovetails with some particularly wide partisan gaps on attitudes toward guns. Two-thirds of Republicans agreed with the statement “owning a gun would make me feel safer,” compared to around just a third of Democrats.
Likewise, 72 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, “The benefits of gun ownership outweigh the risks.”
Democrats were the near opposite of that, with 60 percent disagreeing (Kurtzleben).
Take the Quiz!
You can test your knowledge and take an online quiz here or simply follow below:
1. About how many people in America are shot each year?
2. Of those shot in the United States annually, how many people are killed?
3. How many guns are there in the United States per 100 people?
8 per 100 people
32 per 100 people
88 per 100 people
175 per 100 people
4. T or F: The number of guns in America has increased over the last 20 years.
5. What is the most common type of firearm in America?
6. What kind of firearms are most commonly used in homicides?
7. What percentage of gun deaths are the result of mass shootings?
8. T or F: Most gun deaths in the United States are homicides.
9. About what percentage of reported suicide attempts carried out with a gun result in a death?
10. About how many children are shot each day in America?
11. T or F: Every gun buyer undergoes a background check, whether purchasing from a store or a private seller.
12. T or F: Chicago has the highest homicide rate in America.
13. T or F: Households with guns are more likely to experience a fatality from crime, accident or suicide than households without guns.
How Did You Score?
- An average of 115,000 people were shot each year from 2011 to 2015, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.
- More than 38,000 people died by firearms in 2016, preliminary CDC reports indicate, and the rate of gun deaths increased to 12 per 100,000 people. In 2015, there were 36,000 gun fatalities and about 33,500 annually from 2012 to 2014.
- With 88 per 100 people, the United States has more guns than any other country. Yemen, with 54.8 guns per 100 people, is second.
- There are an estimated 265 million firearms in American households, an increase of 70 million from two decades before, one survey found. In 2015, there were approximately 55 million gun owners, compared with approximately 44 million in 1994. But because of population increases, the share of Americans who owned guns over the same period actually dipped slightly, from 25 percent to 22 percent.
- A recent survey estimated that 42 percent of all firearms were handguns, most of them acquired for self-defense. That reflects a big shift: two decades ago, the most common gun owned by Americans was a hunting rifle.
- Handguns are used in homicides more than twice as often as other types of firearms, according to the Department of Justice.
- Mass shootings account for less than 1.2 percent of annual gun deaths, the New York Times estimates, using figures from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive.
- About a third of the 35,000 gun deaths recorded annually are homicides; 60% are suicides. Unintentional shootings make up another 1 percent.
- Suicide attempts by firearms have an 82.5 percent fatality rate, one study found. Guns are not the most common means of suicide attempt, but they result in more deaths than every other method combined.
- Nineteen children are shot in the United States every day. Three die, on average, a study released this year in the journal Pediatrics found.
- Federal law requires that gun buyers undergo a background check only when purchasing a weapon from a licensed firearms dealer. Fewer than 20 states require checks on sales between private parties. In an estimated 22 percent of gun transfers, the person acquiring the gun is not vetted by law enforcement, research shows.
- Chicago has the most homicides in raw numbers. But on a per-capita basis, the city’s homicide rate is lower than seven other cities, including New Orleans, St. Louis and Buffalo, New York.
- Polls show that a majority of Americans believe a gun makes a household safer, but crime and violent injury data suggest the opposite. One study found that “For every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.”
How Much Do You Know About Gun Violence in America? by Team Trace
“Poll: Majorities of Both Parties Favor Increased Gun Restrictions,” by Daniel Kurtzleben