Print

News Release | Overwhelming Majority of Americans Agree Constitutional Right to Own a Gun is as Important as Right to Free Speech

[08.15.2012]

 Most Americans oppose allowing people to carry concealed guns in a place of worship, government building, or on a college campus

Washington, DCFollowing the tragic mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin, which led to a renewed dialogue on gun rights, a new national survey finds that Americans overwhelmingly believe that the constitutional right to own and carry a gun is as important as their constitutional right to free speech.

The August PRRI-RNS Religion News Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, found that more than two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans agree that the constitutional right to own and carry a gun is as important as other constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech or freedom of the press. There are substantial differences between gun owners (89 percent) and non-gun owners (55 percent), and large differences along racial lines. White Americans (75 percent) are significantly more likely than non-white Americans (56 percent) to agree.

“In spite of recent debates over gun control, a strong majority of Americans believe that the constitutional right to own and carry a gun is as important as the right to free speech,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO. “Unsurprisingly, this belief is particularly pervasive among gun owners.”

The survey also found that roughly three-quarters of Americans believe people should not be allowed to carry concealed guns in a church or place of worship (76 percent), in a government building (73 percent), or on a college campus (77 percent). However, opinion varies somewhat along political and religious lines.

Nearly one-third (32 percent) of white evangelical Protestants and 3-in-10 (27 percent) white mainline Protestants believe that people should be allowed to carry concealed guns to church, compared to 18 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans and 14 percent of Catholics. A majority (55 percent) of Americans who identify with Tea Party support allowing people to bring concealed guns to church, compared to nearly 4-in-10 (38 percent) Republicans and fewer than 1-in-5 Independents (17 percent) and Democrats (9 percent). Similar patterns of opinion exist in Americans’ views about whether concealed guns should be allowed in government buildings or on college campuses.

“White evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are roughly twice as likely as Catholics to believe that people should be allowed to bring concealed weapons to church,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “But it’s important to note that white evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are also substantially more likely than Catholics to own guns, which strongly predicts views on these questions.”

Additionally, the survey finds that a slim majority of Americans support passing stricter gun control laws. There is also broad public support for providing stricter enforcement of existing gun control laws. Few Americans support loosening current gun control laws.

Among the Findings:

There is no consensus among the public on the most important thing that could be done to prevent mass shootings. However, there is considerable disagreement along political and religious lines.

Nearly 3-in-10 (27 percent) Americans say that stricter gun control is the most important thing that can be done to prevent mass shootings, while roughly 1-in-5 say that better mental health screening and support (22 percent) and placing more emphasis on God and morality (19 percent) are the most important preventive measures. Fourteen percent of Americans say that stricter security measures at public gatherings are most important for preventing mass shootings from occurring. Roughly 1-in-10 (11 percent) Americans say that allowing more private citizens to carry guns for protection is the most important thing that can be done to prevent mass shootings.

  • Members of the Tea Party movement are three times more likely than Americans overall to say that allowing more private citizens to carry guns for protection is the most important thing that can be done to prevent shootings (35 percent vs. 11 percent).
  • Democrats are roughly three times more likely than Republicans to say that stricter gun control laws and enforcement is the most important measure to prevent mass shootings (38 percent vs. 13 percent).
  • Close to 4-in-10 (36 percent) white evangelicals say that placing more emphasis on God and morality in school and society is the most important thing that can be done to prevent mass shootings.

Read the Topline Questionnaire, including the survey methodology here.
Read RNS story here.

The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between August 8, 2012 and August 12, 2012 by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,006 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (304 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.5 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence. In addition to sampling error, surveys may also be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context, and order effects.