Flash Polls, Guns, Spring 2013 Articles

Students oppose gun ban; Party ID and gender drive attitudes

A recent survey of nearly 900 Freshman, Junior and Masters Graduate students at North Carolina State University finds that attitudes about a potential ban of semi-automatic weapons varies by partisanship and gender.

Ban 3

The survey, conducted Monday and Tuesday, Jan 28-29, was sent via email to about 2,600 NCSU students. A majority of respondents opposed (57%) a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons.  In addition, and consistent with national polling on the issue, male students were more likely to oppose the ban (66%) than female students (48%). Likewise, Democrats overwhelmingly supported a ban (73%), while only 20% of republicans and 40% of Independents supported a ban.

The survey also included an experiment that asked students whether they supported or opposed a ban on semi-automatic weapons while it also randomly varied a picture of this kind of weapon respondents saw. Pictures were chosen based on likely notions of what a semi-automatic weapon might or might not look like. Approximately half of the respondents were shown a picture of a black .223 REM caliber Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle with an extended clip, folding stock, and pistol grip; features that classify the weapon as an “assault rifle” under the now expired 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (left). The other half of respondents were shown a picture of another extended-clip Ruger Mini-14 without assault-style features (right). Differences in the guns were semantic only. The guns are the same caliber, can fire are the same rate, and can hold the same amount of cartridges; their capabilities, and thus their deadliness, are essentially the same.




Of students shown the assault-style Ruger, 44% support a ban of semi-automatic weapons while 56% opposed the ban. Support for the ban falls to 39% when students are shown the wood stock weapon.

Gun ownership also appears to be a reliable indicator for attitudes on gun control. Of the 55% of State students who said one of their parents owns a gun, 69% said they’d oppose a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons. Conversely, students whose parents do not own a gun support a ban (56%).

Images Matter, Marginally

Democrats and Independents, women, and those with parental gun owners were more responsive to the different images of guns. Yet, none of these image effects were substantively large. For example, women shown the assault-style Ruger support the proposed ban more than if shown the wood-stock Ruger (55% vs. 49%).  Similarly, support for the ban increased among Democrats and Independents when shown the wood-stock image (from 71% to 76% among Democrats, and from 36% to 44% among Independents).  And, support for the ban increases from 29% to 34% among students whose parents owned a gun.

*Author’s note—this survey was designed with the specific purpose of testing the attitude change between respondent groups primed with similar but different images. The language “semi-automatic weapon” is a broad category of pistols, shotguns and rifles. The images shown in the survey are not an accurate representation of what most people’s notion of what a “semi-automatic weapon” looks like. However, using language like “assault weapons ban” instead of “semi-automatic weapons ban” would be accurate for one picture, but not the other, leading to misleading information or non-identical survey questions—something survey researchers must stay away from.


  1. You should really learn the difference between different types of weapons. Your poll discusses a ban on semi-automatic weapons while only showing different types of rifles. Semi-automatic weapons encompasses most of the pistols currently in the market today. Your survey effectively discusses the concept of banning most guns, including those carried by firearms. Another element missing from your sample was how many of the students are American citizens. This is very important when discussing a truly American issue.

    You should reissue your survey with the correct terminology related to what the proposed ban would include. Your two groups would be shown a picture of a semi-automatic rifle, while the other would be shown a semi-automatic pistol. You could even expand the sample in which you provide accurate statistics about gun violence to how many lives are saved and how many lives are taken. This will allow you sample an informed audience.

  2. It’s noteworthy that as with all polls, there is always bias. Instead of posting the picture of a “semi-automatic” weapon, they could have used this one instead


    Always important to know what the pollers are trying to encourage you to say.

  3. Ugh, these numbers are too close for comfort. People need to realize that the constitution was made to protect the people. Altering the constitutional rights is a direct attack on the citizens. Plus, precedence shows that gun control raises the crime rate, specifically among armed robbery. Criminals are going to get guns regardless…but if they know the “good people” won’t have a gun, they have nothing to worry about! Research stats on Australia if you want back up for that!

  4. Additionally, the picture of the black .223 REM caliber Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle does not have a clip in it. It’s a magazine. Magazines and clips are two different items. Also, neither of the guns depicted in your survey have what the media refers to as and extended round, or high-capacity magazine. When releasing what I hope was an unbiased survey, you should not use words that slant your article (e.g. “thus their deadliness” should be stated “thus their effectiveness” as guns are statistically less “deadly” than a claw hammer).

  5. Adam,

    Did you take a look at the “Author’s Note” section at the end of the article? You pointed out some important things about polling language. Of course, polls are imperfect. This survey was administered as a controlled study testing how student’s opinions change with different images associated with the questions. The change in support or opposition is what PACKPOLL researchers were most concerned with in this study. In a sense, the language used was simply a vehicle enabling us to test how the pictures changed the results. The actual results (who is for and against) is secondary in this study.

    We are not trying to say something profound about how students feel about specific bans of assault weapons or any guns for that matter. A much longer survey would be needed to conduct a proper assessment of attitudes.

    The PACKPOLL surveys the attitudes to NCSU students. Citizenship is not a requirement of being a student or being in our survey.

    I’m not sure what proposed ban you’re referring to. Senator Feinstein’s? Again, this survey was not intended on measuring opinions about any specific law or policy, the variable studied was the change in support of a hypothetical law when shown different images.

    Priming respondents with data about gun violence is often a good idea but misses the point of this survey. After all, whose data should be used? The NRA’s? The FBI’s? An anti-gun group? I’m glad you’re thinking about these things but they can be quite complex.

    Both guns contain what appear to be 20-round magazines. You’re right–they are not clips. “High-capacity” is a relative term. Some Bills have proposed to make any magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds illegal.

    Adam, guns are deadly. It is not politically charged to call them deadly. If you re-read what I wrote, I wasn’t calling them overly deadly or dangerous. I simply said their respective capabilities and their deadliness were identical.

    If by “statistically” you mean one is more likely to be killed with a blunt force object than a gun then you may be right. Of course, that is like saying you are statistically less likely to die in a plane crash over a car crash. I think we can both agree that the survival rate of those who experience plane crashes is far lower than those who experience car crashes. In the same vein, those who are assaulted with firearms, at least anecdotally, seem to have a far less likely chance of survival than those attacked with hammers.

    I’m glad you’re looking through the site and thinking about the pitfalls of surveys. I hope the intent of the survey is more clear to you now. We do not have a political agenda. In fact, if you knew me, I think you’d be surprised.


  6. Jake,

    I did not catch the author’s note until after sending my responses. I apologize for that omission.

    My comments related to American citizens was made because the issue is purely American as the amendment to which it relates is in the American constitution. It’s the foundation of how our founders empowered to people to both protect themselves from a tyrannical government and to have an armed citizenry capable of protecting the Union from external forces in lieu of a standing army (see the first case for why a standing army can be bad).

    When I refer to bans I typically refer to the generic list of weapons that always seem to surface despite the FBI statistics (statistics I typically use however they to miss the local incidents with firearms that saved lives) surrounding those events that show how infrequently they are used. I typically ignore the agenda of senators from California when any common sense is required.

    I will have to disagree with you on the supposition that guns are deadly as I believe it’s the malice in one’s heart that kills. Guns in the hands of the malice citizenry are no more deadly than fertilizer or planes in the hands of the malice. Also, I made no assumptions as to the political affiliation of the survey author. I was simply noting the language could be interpreted as thus. I like to compare apples to apples when discussing an issue so I only include intentional events that do harm not accidents. While it is enlightening to quantify that more people die in car crashes, it isn’t applicable as those were accidents.

    Sorry for the diatribe. I just understand how information can be misconstrued and how parts of surveys can be used to sell the desired story.

    Now that I know packpole exists I will keep checking.

  7. Responsible Gun Owner

    To those who support the gun ban, let me remind you that guns do NOT kill people. A person always pulls the trigger and any gun can kill if irresponsibly placed in the wrong hands. Assault rifles as described in the proposed ban highlight cosmetic features which do not make them more dangerous, but rather augment the ability & effectiveness of the shooter.

    Consider this, increasing the number & knowledge of responsible & legal gun owners could actually have the effect of increasing safety which our society intends to strive for. By limiting our responsible gun owners, we could invite more violent acts in public places as criminals know that the likelihood of an armed responsible citizen stepping in will have decreased.

    I am in favor of increased mental & background scrutiny not only upon firearm purchase, but also periodically while guns are owned. The connection of our medical & firearm databases could be a first step in the right direction.

    When I think about Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, & other tragedies, I wonder how these events might have changed if a responsibly armed citizen had been present. Some may argue that a shootout may have resulted had someone returned fire. While possible, I believe that simply the threat of an “armed good guy” to the killers could have provided law enforcement more time to respond and might have resulted in lives saved.

    The reason for carrying a gun is to present yourself with an additional option in the case of a DEADLY EMERGENCY. I pray that I never have to use my weapon in such a situation but I will exercise my 2nd amendment rights so that I am prepared & educated on protecting myself and others from those who wish to inflict deadly harm.

  8. Jake,

    Thank you for conducting this survey of the student body. Considering the pending legislation and quieting public discussion, I would say it was timed appropriately.

    My initial reaction to the survey results and your article was that the proponents of new gun control laws are largely individuals that lack experience with firearms. If so, it is unfortunate that supporters of new legislation would be so quick to assume everyone is as dangerous with a gun as they are. Proper training is as essential aspect of gun ownership and these are the exact people I would not trust with any type of firearm.

    Overall, I was pleased with the conclusions drawn by your study. It is nice to see the data available here as well. Unfortunately, I would not have been aware of the results had I not received an invitation to participate. I hope to see a column in The Technician sometime in the near future.

  9. It is unfortunate that so many people are so willing to give up rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution. Regardless of your political stance, or your personal opinion regarding guns, the essential piece of the Constitution that most people forget is the word “right.” As in, if you don’t like so called “assault” weapons, semi- automatic firearms, or guns in general, you have the right to choose not to own or purchase one. Therefore, one should be able to reasonably understand why a person with a perfect record without so much as a speeding ticket to his name who chooses to use these weapons for sport and self defense becomes so strongly opposed when someone who comes from a complete lack of gun knowledge (minus the input from garbage television shows and media coverage) decides to ban the very thing that they could just as easily choose not to own.

    A very good poll, I was very impressed with the diversity of options for the questions, and I look forward to future polls.

  10. @Jake LaRoe: Saying “guns are deadly” is a rather vacuous statement. guns are no more deadly than are anvils, which reportedly drop on coyote’s heads routinely in the presence of roadrunners. A trained individual could kill you with his hands. a child could kill you with one accidental swipe of a pocket knife to a femoral or carotid artery. Thus, what you really mean when you say “guns are deadly” is that guns dramatically increase the lethal potential of an *individual* – even without much training…

    …Except that isn’t what you said. You didn’t say “guns allow people to kill much more quickly and efficiently”, because that would place the correct emphasis on the individual. What you said was “guns are deadly”, which confers upon them some special, mystical power… deadly powers… as if they roam the streets at night looking to discharge themselves upon hapless victims of their own volition.

    It is this exact subtle dissembling and syntactical judo that is responsible for the reflexive fear and loathing that most untrained people feel towards firearms. They are scared just *thinking* about guns, let alone hold one (and God forbid, : own one). Why this irrational fear? Well…because…”guns are deadly”

    No they are not. Fear, hatred, and superstition are deadly. Guns are just alloy, polymer, and wood. to become deadly they must be accompanied by evil or stupidity capable of animating at least one human hand. But again, there I go bringing *people* into the equation when you’ve so clearly demonstrated that inanimate objects are deadly. How silly of me.

  11. James,

    Do you have any specific comments or questions about the poll, or would you rather continue to bloviate about my word choices?

    Surely you’re not including me among your so-called “untrained” group of people who loathe firearms.
    Firearms are great, I enjoy using all 7 of mine.


  12. Too many damn republicans.

  13. What a disgrace! Fighting over WORDS when this debate started because of a massacre of children! Yes, it was a human being who killed them but it was his easy access to deadly weapons that ended in a massacre. Real “Americans” are hiding behind the Constitution as if it were the word of God. It was the word of men responding to a specific situation, at a specific time in a country which had to evolve in order to become today a modern, relevant country. Not to ban the weapons who were used to massacre these children is not only showing a total indifference to a very human tragedy but it is totally morally irresponsible. Hunting and target shooting are legitimate — Weapons made for WAR ARE NOT. We have to make sure that this country stays civilized.

  14. Respectful reminder to the author of this post: the shown Ruger mini-14 is not fed by “clips”. “Clip” is a firearm term, but does not refer to the above feeding device. The Ruger mini-14 is fed by box magazines. Clips feed some bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles from the early 20th century, such as the M-1 Garand rifle.

    Just worth keeping in mind on a post concerned with pointing out peoples’ misunderstandings about firearms…

  15. Shoot, my bad. Neglected to read the above comments before posting that.

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