WASHINGTON –– A poll analyzing views about gun control in the context of people’s faith groups found that a majority of Americans believe gun rights are as important as other constitutional rights, but they draw the line at guns being permitted in churches and government buildings.
The survey by Public Religion Research Institute, released Aug. 15, found that despite strong support for the constitutional right to bear arms, a majority of people draw the line at allowing people to bring weapons into places of worship.
Two-thirds of Americans told researchers they think the Second Amendment, which covers the right to bear arms, is as important as other constitutional rights, such as free speech, religion and press. But three-quarters said there should be a prohibition against carrying guns into churches, government buildings or college campuses. Fifty-two percent overall favored stricter gun control laws.
For the survey, conducted in partnership with Religion News Service, researchers contacted 1,006 adults by telephone.
Researchers contacted them between Aug. 8 and 12 – after the mass shootings this summer in a Colorado movie theater and a Wisconsin Sikh temple – found that 68 percent believe gun rights are as important as other rights.
In various breakouts by religion, Catholics were less likely than other groups to have guns in their homes or to support allowing concealed guns in churches. They were more likely than mainline Protestants, evangelicals or people unaffiliated with churches to support stronger enforcement of existing gun control laws, the study said.
Of the various breakouts the study included, those least likely to have guns in their homes were nonwhites (23 percent said they had guns); residents of Northeastern states (27 percent); Catholics (32 percent); and Democrats (34 percent). At the other end of the scale, those most likely to have guns in the home were members of the Tea Party (63 percent); Republicans (60 percent); white evangelicals (58 percent) and white mainline Protestants (54 percent.)
Of the whole survey group, 42 percent said they had guns in their homes.
Those who do not own guns were substantially more likely to give gun rights a high value compared to other rights, the survey found. Eighty-nine percent of gun owners said gun rights were equally important, compared to 55 percent of those who do not own guns. Whites also were more likely than nonwhites – 75 percent versus 56 percent – to agree gun rights should be equally valued.
Several questions in the survey tried to get at how mass shootings like those of this summer could be prevented.
The survey said 27 percent of the total number of respondents said stricter gun control is the most important way to prevent mass shootings. Twenty-two percent said better mental health screening and support are necessary. Nineteen percent said placing more emphasis on God and morality are the key. Fourteen percent said stricter security at public gatherings are the most important thing to try, while 11 percent said more private citizens should be allowed to carry guns for protection.
Breaking out support for gun control laws, 52 percent of the whole group surveyed favor passing stricter laws, as did 62 percent of Catholics and 60 percent of those without religious affiliations. Only 35 percent of evangelical Protestants agreed with a need for stricter laws, as did 42 percent of mainline Protestants.
Seventy-two percent of Democrats favored stricter laws, while 65 percent of Republicans oppose stronger laws. Political independents were about evenly divided.
The margin of error for the entire survey group was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.