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Trying to understand more about how Americans think and feel about guns


This week, we've been looking at how gun violence is affecting the country. As part of this effort, we want to understand more about how Americans think and feel about guns. For that, we spoke with Jocelyn Kiley with the Pew Research Center. She focuses on public opinion about politics and recently studied views on guns. I started our conversation by asking her what are the reasons Americans give for owning firearms in the first place?

JOCELYN KILEY: The main reason people say that they own a gun is for protection. Overwhelmingly, that's the top reason, though many Americans also own guns for hunting or sport shooting or as part of a gun collection.

MARTIN: Can we talk more about protection? Pew Research, from the summer of 2023, found that Americans are actually split on this idea. Forty-nine percent say it increases safety by allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves. But an identical share says it reduces safety by giving too many people access to firearms and increasing misuse. That just seems interesting. How does that break out? Do you see any kind of throughline around who believes what?

KILEY: Yes. So there's a large partisan split on anything having to do with guns. Democrats are much more likely to say it reduces safety. Republicans are more likely to say that it increases safety. There's also an urban-rural split that's really important, I think, when understanding gun policy. Urban residents are much more likely to say gun ownership reduces safety, but rural residents are much more likely to say it increases safety.

MARTIN: What about the question of gun violence? Is there a difference or a partisan difference on whether gun violence is a major problem in this country or not?

KILEY: There is. So about six in 10 Americans overall say that gun violence is a very important problem to the country, but this is much more likely to come from Democrats than Republicans. About eight in 10 Democrats say that gun violence is a very important problem for the country, and it's about 38% of Republicans who say this.

MARTIN: How do voters think that gun violence and/or violent crime should be handled?

KILEY: So it's very interesting because there are actually quite a few policies that there's broad support for in the country. So people are overwhelmingly supportive of policies that might prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns. We also see a fair amount of support for something like a minimum age of 21 years. About eight in 10 Americans, including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, support that. So when you talk about specific policy areas, you can find some common ground.

MARTIN: That's Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at Pew Research Center. Jocelyn Kiley, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KILEY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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