Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Gun Owners Overwhelmingly Support Background Checks, See NRA as Out of Touch, New Poll Finds
Press Release

RELEASE: Gun Owners Overwhelmingly Support Background Checks, See NRA as Out of Touch, New Poll Finds

Washington, D.C. — A new national Public Policy Polling survey of gun owners finds overwhelming support for background checks and a higher likelihood of supporting political candidates who move them forward. Gun owners also believe the National Rifle Association, or NRA, is out of touch with them on these issues, and many believe the organization has lost its way altogether. While the debate over gun policy starkly divides American politics, this poll shows that support for key gun violence prevention policies has remained strong for years, even among gun owners themselves.

The poll is being released in conjunction with a delegation of gun owners from around the country that is visiting Washington, D.C., to meet with Obama administration officials and members of Congress on the issue of gun violence prevention. Members of the delegation are calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to take immediate action to close the background checks loophole.

“The horrors of gun violence have deeply affected my community,” said delegation member​ Rick Movsky, who lives in rural Oregon, near Thurston High School and Umpqua Community College, both sites of horrific mass shootings. “I have owned guns my whole life, have a concealed weapons permit, and believe strongly in both my right to own a gun and the need to stop the proliferation of easy access to guns.”

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Overwhelming support for background checks: 83 percent of gun owners nationally support criminal background checks on all sales of firearms, while only 14 percent of gun owners oppose them. There is strong bipartisan agreement on the issue, with 90 percent of Democrat and 81 percent of Republican gun owners in support of background checks. Additionally, 72 percent of NRA members support them. A 2012 Frank Luntz survey of gun owners found that 82 percent were in favor of background checks, including 74 percent of gun owners. Despite well-funded efforts by the NRA and associated groups, support among both gun owners and NRA members remains high.
  • Gun owners want to see action and enforcement of current law: 79 percent of gun owners nationally want to see their politicians take action on this issue and require more gun sellers to conduct criminal background checks before they sell guns, while only 19 percent do not want to see their elected leaders act on this issue. That includes 64 percent of NRA members calling for politicians to take action, compared with only 32 percent who do not want them to act.
  • Gun owners are more likely to support a politician who supports background checks: 66 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backs them, compared with only 19 percent who say they would be less likely to. Supporting background checks is not even a liability for Republican candidates in a primary election: 56 percent of GOP gun owners say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports them, compared with only 27 percent who say they would be less likely to.
  • The NRA is out of touch with gun owners on gun safety issues such as background checks: Only 29 percent of gun owners feel that the NRA represents their thinking when it comes to background checks, with 62 percent saying the NRA is out of line with them on the issue. That fits in with a broader feeling that the NRA has lost it way: 59 percent of gun owners feel that the NRA used to be an organization devoted to gun safety but that it has been overtaken by lobbyists and the interests of gun manufacturers and lost its original purpose and mission. Nearly one-third of NRA members believe the organization has lost its way.

“The big picture from this survey is clear: Gun owners overwhelmingly support background checks,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling. “And that includes gun owners who are Republicans and gun owners who are NRA members. Gun owners want politicians to take action on these issues, and if anything, they will reward them for it. Gun owners also send a clear message that the NRA has lost its way and does not represent them on this issue.”

Many proposals exist to address gun violence, including ensuring that gun buyers are required to undergo a background check no matter where they purchase guns.

“Despite a staggering amount of gun violence affecting every community across the country, Congress’ blind allegiance to the NRA has prevented lawmakers from passing a single sensible gun law that would make communities safer since the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012,” said Tim Daly, Director of Campaigns for the Guns and Crime team at the Center for American Progress. “But these poll results make clear that gun owners—particularly NRA members—want the president and Congress to take action now to end this gun violence. If Congress refuses to act, President Obama should use his executive authority to ensure that all high-volume gun sellers become licensed and conduct background checks before they sell a firearm.”

“The NRA does not speak for the majority of gun-owning Americans, and tens of thousands of gun-owning MoveOn members are ready to stand alongside our allies and urge President Obama and members of Congress to come together on this issue and pass meaningful, commonsense gun control measures,” said Jo Comerford, campaign director for Civic Action. “In this crucial time, we will organize and elevate the voices of responsible gun owners to wrest control of this debate from the NRA. It is long past time that Congress start feeling accountable to the majority of Americans who support gun control instead of deep-pocketed NRA lobbyists.”

While in Washington, D.C., the delegation of gun owners from across the country is meeting with White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and more than 40 congressional offices. They represent two groups of gun owners who support stricter gun laws: Gun Owners for Gun Control and the American Coalition for Responsible Gun Ownership. Civic Action, which organized the delegation, launched Gun Owners for Gun Control after the mass shooting in Oregon last month; the group now has more than 32,000 members. These gun-owning members of the progressive organization agree that the National Rifle Association does not speak for me and have come together to fight for commonsense gun laws that respect the Second Amendment while reducing rampant gun violence in American society. Many of the members are current or former dues-paying members of the NRA. The American Coalition for Responsible Gun Ownership, led by evangelical Christian and Republican Mark Carman, is an effort to mobilize conservative Americans who are committed to responsible gun ownership and commonsense gun laws.

“I was a member of the NRA for more than 10 years but resigned my membership when its agenda turned from promoting gun safety and responsible ownership to one of uncompromising opposition to any kind of gun control,” said David Taylor, a retired Army officer and a two-time All-American in rifle shooting from Roswell, Georgia, who is joining the delegation in D.C.

The Public Policy Polling poll, conducted on behalf of Civic Action and the Center for American Progress, surveyed 816 gun owners on November 11 and November 12 with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent.

Read the full poll here.

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Benton Strong at [email protected] or 202.481.8142.