(CN) - Almost half of all Americans say they know someone who has been shot and about a quarter say they or someone in their family have been threatened by someone with a gun, according to a Pew Research Center report released Thursday.
Twenty-three percent of adults in the U.S., including roughly equal shares of gun owners and non-owners, say they or someone in their family has been threatened or intimidated by someone using a gun, and 44 percent of Americans say they personally know someone who has been shot, according to the survey.
Overall, half of Americans agree that gun violence is a “very big problem” in this country, but they disagree on what policies contribute to the problem, and they are also at odds as to the potential impact having more guns in the U.S. would have on overall crime rates.
These findings and others are detailed in Pew’s new 79-page report analyzing the complex relationship Americans have with guns and how that relationship intersects with their policy views.
Researchers surveyed nearly 4,000 U.S. adults – including 1,269 gun owners – in March and April, and found that Americans have a broad exposure to guns, whether they personally own one or not.
Although the survey found that only three in 10 adults in the U.S. say they own a gun, at least two-thirds of Americans have lived in a household where a gun was present at some point in their lives. Seventy-two percent -- including more than half of those who have never personally owned a gun -- say they have fired a gun at some point in their lives.
A third of Americans say that they don’t currently own a gun and can’t see themselves ever doing so.
White men are especially likely to be gun owners, according to the survey, with 48 percent of them reporting that they own a gun.
The survey found that most gun owners -- 67 percent -- say protection is a major reason they own a gun, and that gun owners strongly associate the right to bear arms with their personal sense of freedom. Seventy-four percent of gun owners say the right to own guns is “essential,” compared with only 35 percent of non-gun owners who say they same.
Gun owners also felt more strongly than non-owners about freedom of speech, the right to vote, the right to privacy, and freedom of religion as being essential to their freedom.
Republican gun owners are twice as likely as Democratic gun owners to say that owning a gun is essential to their freedom – 91 percent to 43 percent – and Republicans handgun owners are also more likely than Democrats to carry their gun with them. More than half of Democrats who own a handgun say they never carry it.
Gun owners and non-owners agree on some safety precautions and gun control proposals, according to the report.
Nearly all gun owners believe that talking to children about gun safety is essential, 66 percent say all guns should be kept in a locked place when there are children living in the home, and 59 percent say gun owners who are parents should take a gun safety course. The majority of non-owners agree that these are essential precautions for gun owners with children in the home.
However, many gun owners with children say at least some of their firearms are kept unlocked and loaded, with 30 percent admitting that there is a gun that is both loaded and easily accessible to them all of the time when they’re at home.
Most gun owners and non-owners, 89 percent of both groups, favor limiting access to guns for people with mental illness, and preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns.
Solid majorities of both groups also favor background checks for private sales and at gun shows, and for barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists.
Gun owners disagree with non-owners about proposals for creating a federal database to track gun sales, banning assault-style weapons, and banning high capacity magazines.
More than half of gun owners think that the waiting period to buy guns legally should be shortened, and 66 percent of gun owners think teachers and administrators should be allowed to carry guns in primary and secondary schools, while only a third of non-owners support such proposals.
Gun owners and non-owners alike believe that the ease with which people can illegally obtain guns is a major contributor to the gun-violence problem in the U.S., but are at odds when it comes to guns obtained legally.
Sixty-seven percent of people who don’t own guns believe that the ease with which people can legally obtain guns is a major contributor to gun violence, but only 44 percent of gun owners share that view.
The public is divided as to what impact having more guns in the U.S. would have on overall crime rates. A third say that if more Americans owned guns, there would be more crime and a similar share believe there would be less crime.
However, most American adults ultimately believe there is little connection between a person’s access to guns and the likelihood of committing a crime. Seventy-five percent of American adults believe that a person who wants to commit a crime will find a way to do it whether they have access to a gun or not.
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