Survey: North Carolina majority favors stricter laws on gun sales

November 10, 1999

CHAPEL HILL - A majority of North Carolinians feel that laws covering handgun sales should be made more strict, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill survey.

Almost two-thirds - 64 percent -- of 714 adults polled favored making laws covering the sale of handguns tougher, while 27 percent said the laws shouldn't change. Six percent said such laws should be made less restrictive.

"These results are almost identical to recent national opinion on the issue," said Dr. Beverly Wiggins, associate director for research development at UNC-CH's Odum Institute for Research in Social Science.

A CBS News Poll conducted in August, for example, found that 67 percent of Americans favored stricter handgun sales laws, 23 percent thought they should be left alone and 5 percent wanted them loosened.

"In the North Carolina study, a majority of adults at all ages, all education and income levels and all political parties supported stricter laws," Wiggins said.

More women than men -- 75 percent vs. 48 percent -- and more blacks than whites -- 79 percent vs. 60 percent -- wanted stronger regulations.

"Stricter gun-sale laws were supported by almost half of all gun owners (47 percent) and by more than three-quarters (77 percent) of those who do not own a gun," she said.

The survey, conducted by the UNC-CH School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Odum Institute, also repeated questions about guns from a 1985 study. The percentage of North Carolinians reporting that they currently owned or possessed a gun of any kind decreased from 49 percent in 1985 to 41 percent in 1999.

Whites were almost twice as likely as blacks to claim gun ownership (46 percent vs. 25 percent), and men were twice as likely as women to own guns (59 percent vs. 29 percent).

Callers asked all gun owners about their reasons for having the weapons. More gun owners said they had them for self-defense and as part of gun collections than those asked in 1985, while hunting has declined as a reason for gun ownership.

Almost three quarters (72 percent) cited self-defense at home or work as a reason, up from 64 percent in 1985. Thirty-five percent of gun owners said that gun collecting was one of their reasons for owning a firearm, up from 27 percent a decade and a half earlier. Hunting was a reason for 56 percent of gun owners, down from 62 percent in 1985. (Each gun owner could endorse more than one reason, so percentages add to more than 100 percent.)

Respondents who said that they do not own a gun also were asked about their reasons. More respondents in 1999 than in 1985 said fear of an accident was a reason, increasing from 58 percent to 62 percent over the span. Similarly, 55 percent, compared to 50 percent in 1985, said they thought that possessing a gun increased the chance of violence. More than one in five respondents (23 percent), however, said they don't own a gun because someone else in their household already had one.

In the new poll, just over two-thirds of respondents (68 percent) said there was a gun in their home while they were growing up, compared to almost three-quarters (73 percent) in 1985. The percentage reporting having ever fired a gun declined slightly between the 1985 and 1999 studies, from 77 percent to 72 percent.

The UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science conducted the Fall 1999 Carolina Poll between Oct. 23-30. A random sample of 714 adult North Carolinians was interviewed by telephone. The sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percent for the total sample, larger for comparisons between groups.
Note: Wiggins can be reached at 919-966-2350.
Contact: David Williamson, 919-962-8596

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