Rockefeller Institute analysis: To reduce gun violence in the United States, policy changes at all levels of government are essential

A new analysis from the Rockefeller Institute’s Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium examines gun owner demographics, political opinions, and attitudes toward measures aimed at preventing gun violence.
Gun violence may have been partially eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the public consciousness and on the policy agenda, but it continues to devastate communities across the United States at an alarming rate. From 2010 to 2019, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that annual firearm deaths in the US increased 25 percent, from 31,672 to 39,682. At the same time, a record number of firearm sales were recorded in 2020.
With a third of Americans owning guns, understanding gun owners’ attitudes toward gun violence prevention can help policymakers build consensus to enact policy. The analysis presents survey evidence that shows many gun owners are supportive of policies designed to prevent firearm-involved violence, including purchase and possession prohibitions for individuals with mental illness or a history of domestic violence. However, gun owners’ private attitudes often do not translate to public support. This may be, in part, due to gun owners’ perceptions that proponents of firearm regulations want to eliminate elements of gun culture, abolish the Second Amendment, or confiscate all guns.
“These findings can help public health practitioners and government leaders prioritize and reframe policies that are likely to be supported by both gun owners and the broader public,” said Rockefeller Institute Executive Director of Research Laura Schultz. “It is important for policymakers to understand the role that guns play in gun owners’ identity and culture as they build consensus for policy.”
The analysis builds on The Meaning of Guns to Gun Owners in the U.S.: The 2019 National Lawful Use of Guns Survey published by Michael Siegel and Claire Boine. The survey offers new insights into gun owner identity and the symbolic meaning of guns to owners, in addition to gun ownership and political opinions. Other findings from the survey include:
  • The majority of respondents reported that their main reason for owning a gun was defense (59 percent), followed by a sizeable minority who cited recreation (27 percent), and a smaller number (8 percent) who mentioned exercising their constitutional right or giving them a feeling of power.
  • Gun owners appear to generally support restrictions on who can purchase or possess a gun, but they generally oppose regulations on what types of firearms, modifications, and attachments they are allowed to own.
The analysis was authored by Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium Executive Director Joseph Popcun, Project Coordinator Nick Simons, Consortium member Michael Siegel, and Research Fellow at the School of Public Health at Boston University Claire Boine.
The Consortium also announced updates to its gun violence data dashboard. The updated dashboard incorporates the latest 2019 gun violence mortality data from the CDC into its longitudinal visualization of gun deaths and gun death rates in states across the nation.