On October 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the “Route 91 Harvest music festival” on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. The gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, fired hundreds of rifle rounds from his suite on the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. Upon investigation, officials found 23 firearms in Paddock’s hotel room.
This October night was the deadliest mass shooting in United States’ history.
The attack left 58 people dead and 546 injured.
Regardless of opinions on whether or not it should; this incident sparked a national discussion on gun control in the United States. It should come at no surprise in our ever-polarizing political climate that opinions of gun control are also polarized. In fact, 61% of U.S. registered voters say gun control is an important factor in choosing the candidate they vote for.
Consistent with polling on the national scale, NC State students’ opinions on gun control fall along party lines. PackPoll’s Fall 2017 poll shows 90% of democrats in favor of stricter gun control, and 66% of republicans oppose stricter gun control.
The Perception of Safety
What is the reason for the development of these two very different ideas about gun control in the United States?
In one study, researchers found that an incident of a mass shooting leads to a 15% increase in firearm bills introduced in a year to the particular state’s legislature. But contrary to what you may assume, more often these firearm bills aim to make it easier to buy and carry guns. The study concluded that in Republican states, when a mass killing occurs it, “increases the number of enacted laws that loosen gun restrictions by 75 percent.”
As David Brooks points out in his article, these looser gun control laws are enacted because people want them. They hold the belief that guns protect them from crime.
The polarizing opinions on gun control can ultimately be explained through individual’s differing perception of the safety provided by or threatened, due to the presence of a gun.
This difference in the perceptions of safety can be observed in our past poll. NC State respondents were asked if having a gun in the home made it a “safer” or “more dangerous” place to be. 43% of respondents stated that a gun made a home a “safer” place to be. Again this issue falls in line with political party affiliation, a breakdown of this can be seen in the graphic below.
Identity Politics of Guns
There is a huge culture of guns in America. In fact, 1 in 4 American households own guns. As a result, there are more gun clubs and gun shops in this country than McDonald’s.
This culture of guns in America is so ingrained in some individuals’ identity. Ultimately, the gun control debate is about something much more than guns. The threat of gun control is seen as a affront to some American’s way of life.
As David Brooks points out for those against gun control, “…guns stand for freedom. Guns stands for personal responsibility, families defending themselves. Basically guns are what people like us have, and we don’t want people who are not like us telling us what to do.”
In conclusion, while gun control is a deeply divided issue that falls by party lines, it is important to understand the reasons behind these polarized beliefs. While some see the logical solution to gun violence as stricter gun control laws, this is not the way the issue is viewed by all. For opponents of gun control, threatening gun control is threatening their ability to protect themselves and their way of life. In these ever polarizing political times it is important to take a step back and look to the reasons that the other side may have in their opposing ideas.
A Toplines report for all survey questions, and results, is available here: Big Poll Fall 2017 Toplines
NOTE ON METHODOLOGY: This semesters’ “Big Poll” took place October 23-27, 2017. The survey was administered over the internet to a random sample of 4,500 NCSU undergraduates and 871 completed the survey, generating a 19.4% response rate. Assuming a 50-50 division in opinion calculated at a 95 percent confidence level, the margin of sampling error for this survey is +/-3.25% when questions were answered by the full sample; sampling error increases for estimates when three or more choices were offered, when fewer respondents were asked a version of a question, or when analyzing the opinions of sub-groups, such as when looking just at how females responded to a question.
In addition to sampling error, other forms of non-sampling error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, and non-response bias (low response rates), but these types of error are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights for the slight demographic imbalance in gender because weighting the data would not have noticeable effects on the results.