It’s beyond debate that the shootings outside the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas late Sunday night will go into the history books as the largest mass shooting in modern US history, with at least 59 dead and more than 500 wounded.
What’s also indisputable is that this shooting – like the Pulse nightclub shooting before it and Newtown before that and Columbine before that – will land in a political culture that is deeply divided on the proper role for guns in society and the need for – or lack of a need for – stricter gun control measures in the country.
When a gun is used to commit an act of mass violence, two schools of thought immediately assert themselves – both of which seek to explain the genesis of these incidents: 1) We need more gun control laws to stop this cycle of violence 2) Bad people will do bad things no matter what the gun laws are.
That’s reflective of a massive culture disconnect between those who grew up with guns and view them as an extension of their fundamental freedoms and those who did not and view guns far more skeptically.
Here are eight charts that tell the story of our divided culture on guns – and the violent acts carried out with them. These numbers were primarily drawn from extensive historical data collected by Gallup and Pew Research Center on cultural attitudes toward guns and gun violence. We’ve linked to their studies below.
1. A majority of Americans think gun laws should be made stricter
In the latest Gallup numbers, 55% of people said they wanted stricter gun laws while just 10% wanted less strict laws. One in three preferred the laws stay as is. In the last several years, there has been a rise in those favoring stricter gun measures; earlier this decade there were roughly equivalent numbers of people saying laws should be made more strict and those saying the status quo should be kept. Even the 55% who currently favor stricter gun measures is far lower, however than in the 1990s – when upwards of seven in 10 people favored tougher gun laws.
2. 4 in 10 people live in homes with guns
Forty-two percent of people say they either own a gun themselves (30%) or live in a home with someone who owns a gun (11%), according to Pew numbers. Nearly six in 10 say they don’t have a gun in their home. Two thirds of gun owners say they own multiple guns and almost three quarters say they find it difficult to imagine not owning a gun.
Gun ownership tends to break down along partisan lines. More than 40% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they own a gun while just 20% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the same.
3. Three quarters of gun owners believe owning a gun is a fundamental freedom
If you own a gun, you are very likely to believe that your right to do so is rooted in the founding principles of the county. A full 74% of gun owners described their right to own guns as “essential to their own sense of freedom,” according to Pew. Just one in three (35%) of non-gun owners believe the same.
4. Most gun owners cite “protection” as the main reason
There’s been a sea change over the last two decades when it comes to the reasons why people own guns. Back in a 1999 Pew poll, a near-majority (49%) said the main reason they had a gun was for hunting. “Protection” was the 2nd most common reason cited – by one-quarter of respondents.
Fast forward to a 2013 Pew poll when those two numbers were reversed. Now, 48% cite “protection” as their No. 1 reason for owning a gun while one in three say hunting remains their main reason for possessing a firearm.
5. Just 1 in 3 Republicans see gun violence as a “very big” problem
A majority of Americans (50%) say gun violence is a “very big” problem, according to Pew. Another one in three call it a “moderately big” problem.
Those numbers are hugely split along partisan lines. Just 32% of Republicans call gun violence a “very big” problem while two thirds of Democrats say the same.
6. America is deeply divided on whether government will do too much or too little on guns
At a campaign rally for appointed Alabama Sen. Luther Strange last month, President Donald Trump painted a picture of what would have happened to gun owners if Hillary Clinton had won last November. “If Crooked Hillary got elected, you would not have a Second Amendment, believe me,” Trump told the crowd, which responded with chants of “Lock her up.”
There’s absolutely no truth to that claim, but Trump was playing to the extant fears of many gun owners when it comes to what Democrats want to do with the gun culture in America. In an August NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, 50% of Americans said they feared “the government will go too far in restricting the rights of citizens to own guns,” while 45% said their bigger worry was “the government will not do enough to regulate access to firearms.”
7. Republicans don’t believe access to guns increases likelihood of mass shootings
For most Democrats, mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas are all the evidence America should need to be convinced of the need for stricter gun measures. But most Republicans simply don’t draw that same sort of connection between gun ownership and these violent episodes.
Just one in four (27%) Republicans say that stricter laws around gun purchases would lead to fewer mass shootings. A majority (54%) of Republicans say stricter gun laws would make no difference in regards these mass casualty events. Those numbers are a stark contrast between the two thirds of Democrats who say that stricter gun laws would likely lead to fewer incidents of mass violence with guns.
8. There is broad-scale support for a handful of gun control measures
For all the partisan divisions on guns and gun ownership, there are issues on which wide agreement can be found. Take the issue of mandatory background checks for people buying guns at gun shows and private sales; 88% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans support closing the so-called “gun show loophole,” according to Pew data. Eight in 10 Republicans and Democrats support strictures on the mentally ill buying guns.
There is significantly less partisan agreement, however, on the establishment of a national gun registry database (85% of Democrats support compared to 55% of Republicans) or on an assault weapons ban (70% of Democrats support, 48% of Republicans).