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Gun Owners And Non-Owners Share Support For Firearm Background Checks

A person stands before a gray-painted brick walls covered in guns for sale. They hold one pistol in their hands with a wooden stock and black metal barrel. You can only see their hands, a leather-strapped wrist watch and a torso covered in flannel.
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It’s obvious that gun owners and non-gun owners often disagree on gun policy, but recent Pew Research surveys show they share some opinions, too.

The divisions are where you might expect them: Pew found that most gun owners oppose bans on assault-style weapons or on high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Most non-gun owners support those bans.

But both groups largely support universal background checks — that is, requiring those checks for private gun sales or at gun shows to keep firearms out of the wrong hands. About 72% of gun owners support them versus 87% of non-gun owners.

Adam Winkler teaches at UCLA and wrote the book "Gunfight: The Battle Over The Right To Bear Arms In America." He said this common ground is growing, but isn’t new.

“We’ve seen for years that gun owners do support more restrictive laws that will protect public safety, such as universal background checks and things like red flag laws or even banning people from the terrorist watch list from buying guns,” he said.

Still, Winkler says Congress remains stalled on actions, just like “almost any other issue in Congress today. Due to the filibuster and partisan division on these issues, it seems highly unlikely we’re going to see any significant gun control in the coming years.”

And while there may be more movement in states, the U.S. Supreme Court could knock those laws down.

“The justices appointed by President Trump are likely to have a pretty hostile view of gun control legislation,” he said.

Other areas where gun owners and non-owners agreed was in preventing people with mental illnesses from owning guns (both at nearly 90%). And neither group was too keen on allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit (only 35% of gun owners supported it, versus 13% of non-owners).

Winkler said it’s important to note that only about 30% of the more than 10,000 participants in Pew’s survey reported owning a gun. That means there’s likely more support for changes to gun policies among survey respondents, even if that support is concentrated in certain areas of the country.

The lobbying powerhouse NRA opposes universal background checks and most other gun legislation.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.