The majority of Americans favor stricter gun controls, but gun owners are much more likely to be politically active and to contact public officials about their beliefs, according to a new survey that goes a long way toward explaining the political power of Second Amendment advocates.
Twenty-one percent of gun owners said they have contacted public officials about their feelings on the issue, including 9 percent who had done so in the last year, according to the Pew Research Center. Just 12 percent of nonowners said they have ever contacted a public official on the subject.
Twenty-eight percent of gun owners also reported giving money to groups that take positions on gun policy, including 12 percent in the last year, compared to 10 percent of nonowners who say they’ve ever given money on the issue.
In general, Americans side with the gun control advocates, with 52 percent of adults favoring stricter controls, 30 percent saying current laws are about right, and 18 percent who say the laws should be less strict.
But those numbers just don’t translate to the voting booth, said Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.
“Interestingly, you see far less support for background checks when the issue is put to the ballot,” Mr. Pratt said. “For example, even while Maine voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the state voted down a universal background check measure.”
Pew regularly asks Americans to pick whether gun controls or Second Amendment rights are more important, and while gun rights last year held a slim majority at 52 percent, this year the gun control stance was tops at 51 percent.
More than 80 percent of people in the new survey also said they favor items expanding gun-purchase background checks and banning gun purchases by people on no-fly or government watch lists.
“Overall, these results are another encouraging sign for the overwhelming majority of us who know we can do more to reduce the unacceptable rates of gun violence we have in this country,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
But even after the 2012 Newtown school shootings, when there appeared to be somewhat of an appetite for stricter laws, gun control advocates have had difficulty notching legislative victories. Measures to expand gun-purchase background checks failed in a Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate in 2013, and states have had mixed results in recent years on their own efforts.
Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said that’s because the gun control movement overreaches.
“The problem is that terms like background checks do not often reflect the actual content of legislative proposals,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “The best example is universal background checks turn out to be universal registration of guns and their owners.”
With Republicans in control of Washington, gun-rights activists now are looking to go on offense, pushing legislation that would recognize state-issued concealed carry permits nationwide and reduce restrictions on firearm sound suppressors.
Pro-gun advocates have also supported proposals to keep guns out the hands of dangerous people and the mentally ill, but have lobbied against new restrictions, saying legislative remedies offered by the other side often overreach.
In addition to the political implications tied to the issue, the Pew survey also revealed deep cultural divides on guns.
About half of gun owners said all or most of their friends also own guns, compared to just 1-in-10 non-gun owners who said the same.
And in the long-running debate over guns and crime levels, more than half of gun owners — 54 percent — said they think more Americans owning guns would reduce crime, while 23 percent of non-gun owners said the same.
Mr. Gottlieb said gun control advocates are the ones looking to play up such divisions.
“This divide has been created by media and politicians who are hostile to gun ownership who use terms like gun violence epidemic when in fact crimes committed where guns are used is in fact down,” he said.