Roanoke College

RC Poll: The opinions of Virginians on Guns, Gun Policy and Gun Violence

  • RC Poll: The opinions of Virginians on Guns, Gun Policy and Gun Violence

  • 01/28/13
  • Virginians favor many regulations while they think that better enforcement of existing laws is more likely to prevent gun violence. And, they do not blame lax gun laws for mass shootings, according to The Roanoke College Poll. The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 583 Virginia residents between Jan. 14 and Jan. 22 and has a margin of error of +4.1 percent. Residents were asked a series of questions about guns, gun violence and a variety of issues before the Virginia General Assembly.

    Gun violence-causes and prevention

    Residents of the Commonwealth were asked their thoughts regarding the causes of mass shootings such as those in Newtown, Conn. and at Virginia Tech. The most common response was poor policies to deal with mental illness (56%), followed by an inability to stop those who want to kill others (38%), violence in the media, such as video games and TV and movies (28%), poor enforcement of gun laws (26%) and weak gun laws (21%).[1]

    Not surprisingly, respondents were more likely to think that better enforcement of existing gun laws (53%) was more likely to reduce gun violence than tougher gun laws (38%).

    A majority of those surveyed (62%) favor having armed police or security guards at schools to make them safer. At the same time, a majority (58%) opposes allowing teachers and administrators to carry firearms in schools. Most Virginians (59%) think that gun in the possession of a law-abiding citizen is more likely to be used in self defense than in an accidental shooting (26%). Fully half (50%) of those interviewed said that stricter gun control laws would make no difference to their personal safety, while one-third (34%) said stricter laws would make them more safe, and 12 percent said they would make them less safe.

    Regulating firearms

    Strong majorities support requiring background checks for all firearms purchases at gun shows (86%) and universal background checks for firearms purchase, including private transactions (75%). Smaller majorities favor government registration of all firearms (61%) and requiring all gun owners to be licensed by the government (59%).

    Respondents were asked if they favored banning a variety of different types of firearms. A majority (58%) favored banning "assault rifles." Virginians are evenly split regarding banning all semi-automatic rifles (48% favor, 46% oppose), and marginally oppose banning semi-automatic handguns (42% favor, 50% oppose) and semi-automatic shotguns (41% favor, 50% oppose). Only 16 percent of those interviewed favor banning all guns. A ban on all magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds was favored by 53 percent.

    By a very small margin (49%-44%), Virginians disagreed with the statement made by NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

    Experience with firearms

    Nearly three-fourths (74%) of respondents said they had fired a gun at least once in their lives, and 70 percent said they were at least somewhat familiar with how guns work. More than half (58%) grew up in a household in which guns were present, and one-third (35%) described the area in which they grew up as rural. Less than one-third (30%) of respondents were gun owners, and another 14 percent said that someone else in their home owned a gun.

    Views of gun owners and non-owners

    The opinions of gun owners are, not surprisingly, quite different on most of these questions. The only questions on which they are not different are requiring background checks on all transactions at gun shows (84% of owners support; 89% of non-owners support) and on the underlying causes of mass shootings (gun owners slightly less likely to cite weak gun laws and slightly more likely to name an inability to stop a person who truly wants to kill others). The differences on most of the other questions are quite large-often 20 percent or more. A majority of gun owners (65%) support universal background checks, and a majority of non-owners (53%) think that stricter gun laws will make no difference or make them less safe. Comparison of owners and non-owners are available on the questionnaire.


    "While little here is startling, there are a few surprises," said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research and author of "Guns, Gun Control and Elections." "On the whole, Virginians at present favor expanding background checks, gun registration, and banning "assault rifles" and magazines that can hold more than 10 round of ammunition. Yet, they are pessimistic that new laws will reduce gun violence."

    "Virginia gun owners support strengthening background checks, which puts them in line with owners across the nation," Wilson said. "At the same they oppose other types of regulations, some quite vehemently. It is also interesting to note that while non-owners favor stricter laws, they share much of the gun owners' skepticism regarding the utility of additional laws."


    Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., between Jan. 14 and Jan. 22, 2013. A total of 583 Virginia residents were interviewed. The sample of land lines and cell phones was prepared by Survey Sampling Inc. of Fairfield, Conn. and was created so that all cell phone and residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion. Cell phones constituted 17 percent of the completed interviews.

    Questions answered by the entire sample of 583 residents are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.1 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence. This means that in 95 out of 100 samples, like the one used here, the results obtained should be no more than 4.1 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all Virginia residents who have a home telephone or a cell phone. Where the results of subgroups are reported, the sampling error is higher. 

    Quotas were used to ensure that different regions of the Commonwealth were proportionately represented. The data were statistically weighted for gender, race and age.

    A copy of the questionnaire and all frequencies may be found on the Roanoke College website.


    [1]  Respondents were allowed to offer two responses, so percentages do not add to 100%.

  • Dr. Harry Wilson
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