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Even gun owners agree on measures that would reduce gun violence, survey shows

Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Substantial majorities of Americans -- both those who own firearms and those who do not -- support measures that would require first-time gun buyers and those wishing to carry a concealed weapon to demonstrate they can safely own and handle a gun, according to a new study.

In a national survey conducted in January, researchers from Johns Hopkins University's Center for Gun Policy and Research found that 84% of all respondents believe that first-time gun buyers should be required to pass a safety course on the safe handling and storage of a firearm. Close to three-quarters of gun owners surveyed shared this view.

Some 83% of those surveyed -- again including roughly three-quarters of gun owners -- told pollsters they believed that carriers of concealed weapons should to be required to demonstrate they can safely and lawfully handle their weapon in the types of situations they might encounter.

More than 60% of gun owners, and 73% of American adults overall, supported setting a minimum age of 21 for Americans to be able to own a semi-automatic rifle.

And by roughly the same majority, gun owners declined to support "stand-your-ground" laws, which allow a person who feels a threat of serious injury to shoot or kill his or her perceived assailant, even in instances where the gun owner could safely retreat. Overall, fewer than one-third of Americans endorsed stand-your-ground measures.

The findings were published Monday in the journal Health Affairs. They drew from nationally representative surveys conducted in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. At least 7,833 Americans participated in each poll, and in a bid to understand how gun owners' views differed from those of Americans who don't own firearms, researchers deliberately oversampled those who acknowledged keeping a weapon in or around their home.


The study captures potential political support for firearm-safety measures that go well beyond those in place now. And it suggests that gun owners may be less opposed to a range of strictures than politicians widely believe.

Currently, for instance, all U.S. states have provisions allowing lawful gun owners to carry a concealed weapon. But only 29 states require applicants for concealed-carry permits to undergo safety training, and just 16 of those require an applicant to fire a gun as part of that training. Fifteen states have no application or screening process, and no training requirement at all.

Meanwhile, some variant of stand-your-ground laws are in force in 28 states. And fewer than half of the states -- 23 -- have set a minimum age of 21 for purchasing a rifle. Even in some of those states, there are broad exceptions to those limits.

In the wake of recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, President Trump entertained the idea of instituting universal background checks for would-be gun owners. He later abandoned the idea, but the new study suggests that opposition to that policy might be much weaker than politicians had assumed.


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