Republicans are less likely than Democrats – and, in some cases, even gun owners – to see gun violence as a greater threat than terrorism, and are more likely to advocate for more guns as a way to reduce shootings, according to results from the latest Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll.
While 59 percent of Americans say that regulation is a better solution to mass shootings than an increased number of guns, this opinion is sharply divided along party lines. Eighty two percent of Democrats say that better regulation is the best way to reduce the number of mass shootings in America, with only 13 percent saying that more guns is the solution. In contrast, a majority of Republicans (59%) say that more guns is the best way to reduce mass shootings, with only 31 percent saying that more regulation would be better.
“Gun regulation has become a potent symbolic issue for both parties,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the poll. “For Democrats, it’s a common sense solution to a real problem; for Republicans, it’s a sign of government overreach and a threat to civil liberties.”
Republicans and Democrats are also divided on how important gun violence is as a threat to the United States. Overall, 63 percent of Americans say that terrorism is a greater threat than gun violence, with one-third (33%) saying that gun violence is a more pressing concern. Among Democrats, the two concerns are tied (48 to 50), but 83% of Republicans say that terrorism is the greatest concern, while only 15% point to gun violence as the biggest worry.
Even for their own households, Republicans are less likely to say that gun violence is a threat. Despite the fact that far more Americans are killed by gun violence than by terrorism, two-thirds of Republicans (65%) say that terrorism is a greater threat to themselves and their families than gun violence. Only 43 percent of Democrats (and an equal proportion of independents) say the same. Part of this difference may be because Republicans are less likely to know that gun violence is responsible for more deaths than terrorism in the US. Fifty seven percent of Republicans correctly said that gun violence was responsible for more deaths than terrorism in the past ten years, compared with 68 percent of Democrats.
“By any measure, the combined number of terrorism deaths in the U.S. in the past ten years is less than one percent of the number of gun deaths in any of those years,” said Cassino. “But the images of 9/11 left an indelible mark on the lives of many Americans, and continue to shape their views.”
The politicization of guns and gun control is also evident in the views of actual gun owners. About three quarters of gun owners (73 percent) say that terrorism is a greater threat to the U.S. than gun violence, significantly lower than the 83 percent of Republicans who say the same. Gun owners are less likely to say that terrorism is a greater threat to their families than Republicans (59 percent, compared to 65 percent). Additionally, gun owners as a group are more likely than Republicans to say that better regulation will help reduce the number of mass shootings (39 percent to 31 percent), despite the fact that many of the gun owners are, themselves, Republicans.