Mood of the Nation Poll examines gun control as case reaches Supreme Court

November 29, 2019
A McCourtney Institute for Democracy Mood of the Nation Poll found bipartisan support for background checks, licensing changes and other gun reform measures.

A McCourtney Institute for Democracy Mood of the Nation Poll found bipartisan support for background checks, licensing changes and other gun reform measures. 

IMAGE: Eric Plutzer/McCourtney Institute for Democracy

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Supreme Court’s decision on a New York City gun regulation could mean the first significant judicial action on gun reform in nearly a decade — at a time when the McCourtney Institute for Democracy’s Mood of the Nation Poll finds that a majority of Americans support stricter regulations for gun ownership.

At issue in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York is whether it’s legal for gun owners who reside in the city to transport their weapons outside city limits, something that’s currently against city rules. Lawyers representing the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association will argue on Monday that the policy violates gun owners’ Second Amendment rights to transport weapons to second homes or shooting ranges outside the city.

It’s unclear how the case will proceed, but a Mood of the Nation Poll conducted earlier this fall found that 90% of respondents support background checks for all firearm sales and private transfers. This includes people who say that they support the Second Amendment and the rights it guarantees.

In addition, some 75% of respondents said they would support a policy that treated guns like cars, with requirements for gun owners to take a test, license and register their firearms in the same way they do automobiles. Support crossed partisan lines, which was illustrated in the poll’s open-ended responses.

“Law abiding gun owners should have no reason not to test, license, and register their weapons. I believe it would not stop mass shootings but my hope is people who should not have a weapon will not obtain one,” said a 62-year-old Illinois man who described himself as a “strong Republican.”

Democrats and Independents echoed those sentiments, the poll found.

“I grew up in a military family. I don't believe military grade weapons belong in civilian hands. I believe people have the right to own guns but I believe that like a car or a dog that guns need to be licensed and registered,” said a 43-year-old Democratic woman from Michigan.

A McCourtney Institute for Democracy Mood of the Nation Poll found that more than half of Second Amendment supporters also support background checks and increased licensing for gun owners. About 45% support an assault weapon ban.

A McCourtney Institute for Democracy Mood of the Nation Poll found that more than half of Second Amendment supporters also support background checks and increased licensing and testing for gun owners. About 45% of Second Amendment supporters are in favor of an assault weapon ban.

IMAGE: Penn State

The poll also showed bipartisan support among Americans for background checks on prospective gun buyers. Eric Plutzer, professor of political science and director of the poll, said these open-ended answers show surprising areas of common ground and opportunities for compromise.

“Legislation that focuses on what some might call ‘responsible’ gun ownership represents an unusual opportunity for strong partisans on both sides of the political divide to cooperate and work together on common goals,” Plutzer said. “The strong similarity in the words, phrases and values that Republicans and Democrats use in their open-ended answers suggest that genuine dialogue and deliberation on gun control and gun rights in the United States is indeed possible.”

“Although the poll reveals a strong bipartisan consensus for additional regulations of firearms,” Plutzer noted, “a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could be so far reaching it would make all such proposals unconstitutional.”

The Mood of the Nation Poll is conducted by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy in partnership with online polling firm YouGov. A representative sample of 1,000 Americans shared their views on gun regulation from Sept. 23-25, 2019.

The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments on New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York Dec. 2. If the court decides to rule on the case in summer 2020, it will be the first decision on a gun-related case since McDonald v. City of Chicago in 2010.

To learn more about the poll and read the full report on gun control, visit the McCourtney Institute’s website.

Last Updated November 29, 2019