Many gun owners are hesitant to express support for stricter gun control measures

Many gun owners are hesitant to express support for stricter gun control measures

Mass shootings have reignited the gun debate across the US Polls show a majority of Americans, including gun owners, support some restrictions on firearms, but hesitate to speak out.


There were shootings in eight states this weekend. At least 15 people were killed, more than 60 wounded. In places like Philadelphia and Chattanooga, Tenn., there were more appeals to do something about gun violence. Polls and studies suggest that most Americans, including many gun owners, support background checks and red flag laws. But many gun owners are reluctant to speak out. NPR’s Allison Aubrey has been looking into this. And she joins us now. Good morning.


FADEL: So you’ve been talking to gun owners in Texas. That, of course, is the state where so many children were killed at school last month. What are you hearing?

AUBREY: Well, let me tell you about two gun owners, in particular. They’re neighbors, Richard Small and Gerardo Marquez. They both live on small ranches south of San Antonio, not far from Uvalde. They have a lot in common. They’re both in their 60s, both retired school teachers and administrators. And both told me they grew up with guns. Here’s Small and then Marquez.

RICHARD SMALL: I have a rifle that I use with my grandson for plinking. They call it plinking, you know, shooting at a steel target.

GERARDO MARQUEZ: We duck hunt, turkey hunt. So that’s what it is for me. We’re both in a country where people regularly shoot.

AUBREY: Guns are just part of their everyday lives. They go to gun shows. They read hunting magazines. They’re both very upset about the spate of mass shootings.

FADEL: Yeah.

AUBREY: And they’re troubled, they say, by the easy access to assault-style rifles. And they want to change, they say.

FADEL: They want to change. So what does that mean? Do they support tougher gun control laws?

AUBREY: They do. Richard Small says after the 19 children were gunned down, he was so shaken, he actually handed over the assault-style rifle he owned to local police. That was reported by The Washington Post. He told me he just wanted it gone. Again, here is Small, followed by Marquez.

SMALL: I had an epiphany of, I’m done. I don’t need it. It’s a bad, deadly combination in the wrong hands.

MARQUEZ: It’s so obvious that we need to do something. The last two shootings, the one in Buffalo, the one here in Uvalde – 18-year-olds. I mean, golly, when are we going to wake up?

AUBREY: Marquez is a Democrat. Small is a Republican. They both still own multiple guns. But both support stricter background checks, more licensing requirements and red flag laws. That is, basically, taking guns away from people who are deemed dangerous by the courts. Mark says he’s long been in favor of more gun control. The recent tragedies add to the urgency, he says. But neither of them has spoken up so publicly about their views until now.

FADEL: Why not?

AUBREY: Well, one reason is that as a longtime member of the NRA – the National Rifle Association – Small says he’s been around a lot of people who he says have fallen for the gun lobby’s propaganda.

SMALL: They’ve almost become so defensive and paranoid that government wants to seize their weapons. And they’re so indoctrinated with that concept. I mean, we’ve got people, these guys – I’m so embarrassed, you know? They’re walking around with these ARs, you know, flamboyantly, you know, downtown, protesting. And, you know – and I’m just like, this has gotten out of hand, you know? It’s so crazy.

AUBREY: And Small told me, from the outside, it may seem like these people represent the majority of gun owners. They certainly are the most vocal and getting the most attention.

FADEL: So he thinks more gun owners are like him, share his views?

AUBREY: Yeah. He’s starting to think that he might be part of a silent majority of gun owners who want what he Marquez call commonsense gun law reform. Here’s Mark.

MARQUEZ: I think the majority of gun owners would like for an 18-year-old not to have an AR.

AUBREY: And Small says he’d like to see a new movement of people in the middle instead of an agenda driven by minority or what he would call the extreme within the NRA.

SMALL: I’m hoping that gun owners, you know, sensible people are going to rise up and just – you know what, guys? Enough is enough.

FADEL: So is there any evidence that the views of these two neighbors are actually reflective of most gun owners?

AUBREY: Well, of course, there’s a range of views. But, yeah, there is some evidence. I spoke to Dr. Michael Siegel. He’s a public health researcher at Tufts University. He’s published research based on surveys of thousands of gun owners.

MICHAEL SIEGEL: You know, our study found that the overwhelming majority of gun owners are just like him, that they support these types of basic laws that aim, simply, to keep guns out of the hands of people who are high risk for violence. But they’re afraid to speak out publicly.

AUBREY: His study was published in 2020. After a mass shooting like Buffalo or Uvalde, support for gun control tends to go up. But he thinks the voices of gun owners who support tougher laws are still not being heard.

FADEL: So what does he think the reason is for that?

AUBREY: Well, they’re kind of stuck in the middle. They reject the gun lobby’s positions. But when they look at the other side, they’re also leery of gun control advocates who say things like, get rid of all guns. Or, you know, they don’t want to be seen as part of the problem just because they own a firearm, Dr. Siegel says.

SIEGEL: It alienates them because they feel like they’re being blamed. And so we really need gun owners to be part of the solution. And to do that, we have to respect gun culture. We have to respect the fact that they have a legitimate reason for owning a gun. We don’t have to agree with it, but we have to respect it.

AUBREY: And he says that will help elevate the voices of gun owners who support gun control.

FADEL: So he’s arguing that gun control advocates would make progress if they embrace gun owners.

AUBREY: That’s basically it. I mean, the views of Richard Small and Gerardo Marquez fit with the research. Gun owners believe in the right to own weapons. But they see plenty of room for compromise and lots of common ground. And if recent tragedies motivated more to speak out, Dr. Siegel says he thinks it would make a big difference.

SIEGEL: I think it’s a game changer. I think that when gun owners are willing to come out and express their support for these laws, that’s when things will really start to change.

AUBREY: I mean, it’s a lot of people. About a third of adults in the US own a gun.

FADEL: Any evidence to show public opinion on gun control is shifting overall, even as legislation is stuck?

AUBREY: Well, a recent poll from Ipsos finds two-thirds of Americans believe there should be at least moderate regulations or restrictions on gun ownership. And though there is a partisan difference, 53% of Republicans agree with moderate to strong regulations. I spoke to Chris Jackson of Ipsos about their results.

CHRIS JACKSON: We found that even among Republicans, we saw a majority, 78%, said that they would be more likely to support a candidate who supports passing background checks and red flag laws for all new gun purchases.

AUBREY: And researchers say if polls continue to show that most Americans, including many gun owners, support new gun control measures, it would be harder for politicians to say they’re representing the interests of their people by voting against them.

FADEL: NPR’s Allison Aubrey. Thank you for your reporting.

AUBREY: Thank you.


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