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September 17, 1998 Press Contact: William Harms
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Americans support measures to make guns safer National Opinion Research Center survey shows

68% want government to regulate gun design

A majority of Americans, including gun owners, want the government to regulate handguns to make them safer, according to a survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The key findings are published in today’sNew England Journal of Medicine.

The Second Annual NORC/Johns Hopkins/Joyce Foundation Gun Policy Survey found that, overall, 68 percent of Americans favor government safety regulations for the design of guns. It also found:

  • 88 percent of Americans support legislation requiring all new handguns sold in the United States be designed so that they could not be fired by young children (80 percent of gun owners hold this view).
  • 71 percent of Americans want a law requiring all new handguns be personalized so that only authorized users can fire them (59 percent of gun owners favor the restriction).
  • 73 percent of Americans want legislation requiring all new handguns to have a load indicator that shows if the handguns contain ammunition (a position 60 percent of gun owners support). These requirements on gun design currently do not exist.
The survey is the most comprehensive and up-to-date study of American attitudes toward gun policies. The study was conducted by NORC and the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, with funding from the Joyce Foundation of Chicago.

“A substantial majority of Americans support technological measures to make guns safer, tougher general safety standards for the design and manufacture of guns and other safety-promoting measures such as holding manufacturers liable for defects in design and production,” said Tom W. Smith, an author of the study and director of NORC’s General Social Survey.

“Americans want to protect their children from death and injuries involving handguns. Now they see new, highly desirable policies that will provide such protection,” said Stephen Teret, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and lead author of today’sNew England Journalarticle “Support for New Policies to Regulate Firearms: Results of Two National Surveys.”

The survey also shows considerable concern among parents about having their children around handguns. A striking nine out of ten parents say they would not let their child play in or visit a home if they knew it had a loaded handgun that was not locked away. Even if the handgun were unloaded and locked away, 30% of parents say they would not let their child play in such a home.

This finding is consistent with the advice of many doctors and the American Academy of Pediatrics who recommend that before permitting a child to play in another home, parents should check if there is a handgun there.

The NORC/Johns Hopkins/Joyce Foundation survey also found that most Americans believe guns are far more regulated than they actually are. For example, when asked whether guns manufactured in the United States are regulated by federal safety standards, most people responded that there were at least some safety regulations, when in fact there are none.

Of the people surveyed, 94 percent believe that handguns manufactured in the United States should have to meet the same federal government quality and safety standards as handguns made in foreign countries and imported into the United States. American handguns currently do not have to meet such standards. Americans overwhelmingly say they want guns to meet such standards, even if that would make them more expensive.

Among the other key findings in the NORC/Johns Hopkins/Joyce Foundation survey are:

  • 78 percent of Americans believe the sale of handgun ammunition should be subject to the same restrictions and background checks as the sale of handguns.
  • Policies designed to hinder illegal gun sales get strong support: 90 percent of Americans want a law requiring handgun manufacturers to make serial numbers tamper resistant, and 82 percent of those polled endorse mandatory registration of handguns.
  • 70 percent of Americans agree that the government should do everything it can to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals, even if it means that it will be harder for law-abiding citizens to purchase handguns.
  • Proposals to prevent gun purchases by people convicted of a variety of misdemeanors get strong support, including domestic violence (89%), drunk driving (71%) and simple assault (85%).
Across all topics, women are more concerned about guns and more in favor of their regulation than men.

Gun ownership is lowest in the Northeast, intermediate in the West and highest in the South and Midwest. Gun ownership does not vary greatly by educational level, but does correspond to income: the higher the household income, the more likely a family will own a gun.

“What this survey shows is that Americans want legislation that will help prevent the tens of thousands of handgun deaths a year,” said Deborah Leff, president of the Joyce Foundation. “But there is a big gap between the laws and protections Americans want and the laws America has. We hope this survey will prompt policy makers to take notice and better protect the public.”

The 1997-98 telephone survey of 1,200 U.S. adults has a margin of error of 4 percent. Full results of the survey will be posted on the NORC web site at 5:00 E.D.T., September 16.

Additional Contacts
Bob Neuman (202) 628-2075
Julie Antelman, NORC (773) 256-6312
David Kindler, Joyce Foundation (312) 782-2464
Susan De Francesco, Johns Hopkins University (410) 614-3243
Last modified at 03:51 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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