COLLEGE YOUTH AND GUNS POLL EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
out of 10 American high school students support key handgun control proposals,
according to a new poll conducted by researchers at Hamilton College.
The Hamilton College Youth and Guns Poll is the first national survey
to probe high school students' attitudes toward gun issues.
This survey of more than 1,000 high school sophomores, juniors and
seniors was designed and analyzed by Hamilton Sociology Professor Dennis
Gilbert and his students. It was wholly funded by Hamilton's Arthur Levitt
Public Affairs Center and administered by the polling firm Zogby International.
The poll had an expected margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percent.
Among the poll's main findings are the following:
among high school students for the most commonly discussed handgun control
and gun safety measures is almost universal.
*Support among high school students for the most commonly discussed handgun control and gun safety measures is almost universal.
High school students back handgun regulation at higher levels than respondents
in recent adult surveys
* High school students back handgun regulation at higher levels than respondents in recent adult surveys
school students believe that the Constitution protects the right of citizens
to own guns. But they reject the idea that government regulation of the
sale and use of handguns violates this right.
*High school students believe that the Constitution protects the right of citizens to own guns. But they reject the idea that government regulation of the sale and use of handguns violates this right.
half of high school students say it would be easy for a teenagers to obtain
a handgun in their neighborhood. A third report that they know of someone
at their school who has been threatened with a gun or shot at.
*Almost half of high school students say it would be easy for a teenagers to obtain a handgun in their neighborhood. A third report that they know of someone at their school who has been threatened with a gun or shot at.
is a notable gender gap in gun attitudes among high school students. Majorities
of males, but much larger majorities of females, support gun control and
*There is a notable gender gap in gun attitudes among high school students. Majorities of males, but much larger majorities of females, support gun control and safety measures.
Many high school students are potential gun control activists -- willing
to sign petitions, participate in demonstrations, and volunteer their time
to obtain passage of stricter gun laws.
* Many high school students are potential gun control activists -- willing to sign petitions, participate in demonstrations, and volunteer their time to obtain passage of stricter gun laws.
Professor of Sociology, Hamilton College
GUNS AND GUN VIOLENCE IN THE LIVES OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
The Hamilton College Guns and Youth Poll found that high school students are aware of handguns as a national issue and a local reality. More than 90 percent of the students interviewed said that they had seen media coverage of gun control issues. Over 80 percent indicated that they had discussed gun control in school, at home or with friends. Many reported instances of gun violence in their schools or neighborhoods -- sometimes involving friends or relatives.
Almost half the students interviewed thought that it would be easy for someone their age (typically 15 to 17) to obtain a handgun in their neighborhood. About one-third knew of someone in their school who had been threatened with a gun or shot at. A quarter of students said that they or someone close to them -- like a relative or a friend -- had been "shot by a gun," outside of military combat. (The proportion rose to a startling 47 percent among students living in cities with populations over 500,000.)
The circumstances and setting of these incidents varied. A junior at an urban high school says she lost a close male friend who was shot and killed while playing basketball. A senior from a suburban high reports that her brother got in a fight and was shot in the leg. Some students reported hunting accidents; in one case, the student's brother had shot his father. A sophomore from a small town in the South described a bizarre incident in which some boys were "messing around;" one shot another "in the butt" and received a stab wound in return.
Nonetheless, most high school students regard their schools as safe and could not recall serious incidents involving guns in their schools or neighborhoods.
SUPPORT FOR GUN CONTROL
Almost all the students interviewed for the Hamilton poll support four measures currently advanced by many advocates of handgun control: a five-day "cooling-off period" for gun purchases, government registration of handguns, licensing of handgun owners, and background checks for all buyers. Support for these measures, considered individually, is generally in the 90 percent range. Eighty-five percent of students favored at least three of the four measures. Less commonly heard proposals to raise the age at which a handgun can be purchased or to ban handgun possession altogether received lower levels of support.
The Hamilton researchers found that high school students are more likely to support concrete gun control proposals than the abstract idea of gun control. In the interviews, the questions on specific control measures were preceded by a general question which has been used in many national surveys of adults: "[Should] laws covering the sale of firearms be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are?" Sixty-five percent opted for stricter laws and 29 percent for the status quo. (Only 5 percent wanted to roll back current laws). Obviously, most of those who did not opt for stricter laws in the abstract favored popular measures like the waiting period and licensing.
Gun Control Measures
Gun Control Measures
|89||Require a 5-day waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a handgun, to keep the buyer from acting on impulse against himself or others.|
|96||Register all handguns, at the time of purchase, so they can be traced by the police when necessary for criminal investigations.|
|92||Require all handgun buyers to pass a criminal background check, whether they are buying the gun from a gun dealer or a private individual, at a store or a gun show.|
|90||Require handgun buyers to obtain a gun owner's license before purchasing a handgun.|
|64||Raise the age at which someone can purchase a handgun from 18 to 21.|
|38||Ban the possession of handguns except by the police and other authorized personnel.|
|11||Ban the possession of handguns by all persons, even the police|
SUPPORT FOR GUN SAFETY LEGISLATION
Most of the high school students interviewed for the Hamilton study were also supportive of three current gun safety proposals: mandatory trigger locks, a required safety course for gun buyers, and potential criminal liability for allowing guns to fall into the hands of children. Approximately three-quarters of high school students support all three safety measures.
Gun Safety Measures
Gun Safety Measures
|87||Require all guns sold in the U.S. to have a trigger lock, a device that prevents a gun from being fired until the device is unlocked and removed.|
|89||Require anyone who wants to buy a gun to first pass a safety course.|
|78||Hold adults criminally responsible if they fail to store a gun safely and a child harms himself or someone else with that gun.|
CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND GUN CONTROL
One statistic from the Hamilton poll will please advocates of gun owners rights: 81 percent of high school students believe that "the US Constitution guarantees individual citizens the right to own firearms." It is thus not surprising that these teenage respondents balk at proposals that would ban handgun possession (see above).
But two-thirds of the students who say they
believe there is a constitutional right to own guns, reject the idea that
"laws regulating the sale and use of handguns violate the constitutional
rights of gun owners." And more
than 80 percent of the students interviewed agree that the "government
should do everything it can to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals,
even if it means that it will be harder for law-abiding citizens to purchase
handguns." In short, most American
high school students are convinced that gun ownership is constitutionally
protected, but, at the same time, subject to reasonable regulation.
COMPARISONS WITH ADULTS
To allow comparisons of teen and adult attitudes on gun issues, the Hamilton Youth and Guns Poll replicated some questions from current academic and media surveys of adults. The comparisons reveal that high school students are generally more supportive of gun control than their elders. Students responding to the Hamilton survey backed the broad notion of "stricter gun laws" at the same level as adults but were significantly more likely than adults to favor specific control measures. They rejected the idea of a civilian gun ban in the same proportions as adults.
But in 13 out of 14 comparisons with recent adult polls concerning the five-day waiting period, registration of handguns, background checks, licensing of handgun owners, and trigger locks, the Hamilton poll found higher levels of support for the regulation of handguns. For example, 96 percent of the students interviewed favor handgun registration, compared to 75 to 80 percent of the adults surveyed by CNN, ABC/Washington Post, and the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC).
High school students are much more
likely than adults (81 vs. 48 percent) to believe in a constitutional right
to gun ownership.
But two-thirds of high school students believe that the right to ownership
does not preclude handgun regulation -- a proposition supported by a slim
majority of adults in an older (1993) Gallup poll. And students are more likely
than adults (83 vs. 75 percent) to agree that the “government should do everything”
to keep criminals from getting handguns, even if this makes it harder for
“law abiding citizens” to buy them.
POTENTIAL FOR GUN CONTROL ACTIVISM
High school students, according to the conventional wisdom, are politically inert and indifferent. But the Hamilton poll found that a significant minority of American high school students, by their own accounts, are potential gun control activists. The Hamilton researchers asked students how likely they would be to participate in various sorts of political activities in support of stricter gun laws if they were asked to do so by a like-minded friend. Their answers suggest considerable depth of conviction on gun issues. They indicate that most students are willing to sign a gun control petition, many would participate in a protest march or demonstration, and a few are ready to volunteer several hours a week to strengthen gun laws.
Closer analysis of the responses to these questions suggests that one in three high school students has at least some potential for gun control activism; one in six has relatively high potential. The likely activists are characteristically optimistic about the ability of young people to change gun laws by organized efforts. They are also disproportionately female. For example, 18% percent of females responding, but only seven percent of males, said they would be willing to participate in a protest action.
Potential for Gun Control Activism
Very likely or
|Sign a petition||43%||69%|
|Attend a meeting||19%||42%|
|Meet with local official||24%||48%|
|Participate in protest||14%||33%|
|Volunteer 5 hours||10%||27%|
THE GENDER GAP AND OTHER VARIATIONS
The Hamilton Youth and Guns Poll revealed a substantial gender gap in gun attitudes among high school students. Strong majorities of both males and females support key gun control and gun safety proposals. But females are 27 percent more likely than males to favor "stricter"
gun laws in general; 21 percent more likely to support all four basic gun control proposals; 11 percent more likely to support all three gun safety measures; and, judging from their expressed willingness to participate in pro-gun control activities, 22 percent more likely to become activists.
This gender gap is all the more notable because there is otherwise little demographic variation. Factors such as family income, parents' education, and geography -- often powerful influences on opinion -- had only modest (sometimes statistically insignificant) effects on gun attitudes. The Hamilton researchers found that support for gun control is greater among minority students than whites; greater in suburbs and cities than in rural areas; and greater in the East and South than the Midwest and West. But these differences are minor relative to gender.
One non-demographic factor was influential: gun ownership. Respondents who said that they or someone in their household owned guns were, not surprisingly, less supportive of gun control. But even here, there was strong majority support for specific gun measures. Seventy -seven percent of students from handgun-owning households favored at least three of four basic control measures (vs. 86 percent from non-owning households).
|Percent Favoring Proposal|
|"Stricter gun laws"||52||79|
|4 control measures||48||69|
|Raise purchase age||54||76|
|Ban, except police||28||48|
|Ban for all||13||9|
|3 Safety measures||31||42|
|"Very Likely" to...|
|Volunteer 5 hrs.||4||14|
|Support "Stricter Gun Laws'||
CONDUCTING THE YOUTH AND GUNS POLL
The Hamilton College Youth and Guns Poll is the third in a series of national youth surveys conducted by Hamilton faculty and students. These studies are intended to take advantage of the academic expertise of faculty and the life experience of Hamilton students. Previous Hamilton youth polls have dealt with the plans and life values of graduating high school seniors (1998), and the racial attitudes of young adults (1999). All funding for these surveys has come from Hamilton's Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.
The Youth and Guns Poll was designed and analyzed by Hamilton Sociology Professor Dennis Gilbert and his students. The study was administered by Zogby International and done in two stages. The first was a 300-call pilot survey, conducted in April 2000. Half of the calls for this stage were made by Hamilton student researchers at Zogby International facilities. On the basis of the results from the pilot study, the questionnaire was rewritten and submitted for comment to researchers at Catholic University, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and UCLA before being put in final form. This redesigned questionnaire was administered to a national sample of 1,005 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors in calls made from June 2 to 5, by Zogby International.
A random sample of 1,000 is accurate within plus or minus 3 percentage points. However, obtaining a random national sample of high school students is especially difficult. Non-sampling problems, such as ambiguities in questionnaire items and less than candid responses, can also affect poll accuracy. The demographics of the second stage data suggest, however, that a representative national sample was obtained. For the analysis presented here the sample was re-weighted for parents' education, region, sex, race/ethnicity and year in school, though these adjustments had little effect on the results.
1) YEAR IN SCHOOL
|Year in School||%|
2) SCHOOL TYPE
3) SCHOOL SIZE
4) SCHOOL SAFE?
you rate your school as very safe, fairly safe, somewhat unsafe, or very unsafe?
5) PERSONAL SAFETY
you ever concerned about personal safety at school, or on the way to and from
6) CARRY GUN
Has anyone you know ever carried a gun in school
or on the way to or from school?
7) THREATENED OR SHOT
you know of anyone in your school who has been threatened with a gun or shot
|Threatened or Shot||%|
Not including military combat, have you or anyone
close to you -- such as a friend or
relative -- ever been shot by a gun?
9) GUN DISCUSSION
Within the last year, have you discussed gun control issues in class, at home or with your friends?
10) GUN MEDIA
you seen anything about gun control issues in the media?
11) STRICTER GUN LAWS?
In general, do you feel that laws covering the
sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are now ?
|STRICTER GUN LAWS||%|
12) COOLING OFF PERIOD
a 5-day waiting period between the purchase and delivery of a handgun, to
keep the buyer from acting on impulse against himself or others.
|COOLING OFF PERIOD||%|
13) REGISTER HANDGUNS
Register all handguns, at the time of purchase,
so that they could be traced by the police when necessary for criminal investigations.
14) BACKGROUND CHECK
all handgun buyers to pass a criminal background check, whether they are buying
the gun from a gun dealer or a private individual; at a store or gun show ?
Require handgun buyers to obtain a gun owner's license before purchasing a handgun.
Raise the age at which someone can purchase
a handgun from 18 to 21 .
17) BAN CIVILIAN POSSESSION
Ban the possession of handguns except by the
police and other authorized personnel .
|BAN CIVILIAN POSSESSION||%|
18) BAN ALL POSSESSION
the possession of handguns by all persons, even the police .
|BAN ALL POSSESSION||%|
19) TRIGGER LOCK
all guns sold in the US to have a trigger lock, a device that prevents a gun
from being fired until the device is unlocked and removed .
20) SAFETY COURSE
Require anyone who wants to buy a gun to first
pass a gun safety course.
21) CHILDREN AND SAFE STORAGE
adults criminally responsible if they fail to store a gun safely and a child
harms himself or someone else with that gun .
|CHILDREN AND SAFE STORAGE||%|
22) LAW-ABIDING CITIZEN
government should do everything it can to keep handguns out of the hands of
criminals, even if it means that it will be harder for law-abiding citizens
to purchase handguns.
In your opinion, does the US Constitution guarantee
individual citizens the right to own firearms?
24) REGULATION AND CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS
you believe that laws regulating the sale and use of handguns violate the
constitutional rights of gun owners? (Not
asked of respondents who answered No on #23).
|REGULATION AND CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS||%|
Questions 25 to 30 measure potential for gun-control activism. They were not asked of a small group of respondents (about 8 percent of the sample) who responses to items 11 (less or same) and/or 15 (disapprove) revealed that they were generally opposed to control measures.
25) ACTIVISM: PETITION
Suppose a friend who thinks like you do
about these issues asked you
to sign a petition calling for stronger
gun control laws. On a scale from 1
to 5, with 1 being very Unlikely and 5 being very likely, how likely is it
that you would sign the petition
| Very Unlikely
|Very likely (1)||43.1|
26) ACTIVISM: MEETING
Attend a meeting of a group that promotes stricter
|Very unlikely (5)||15.9|
27) ACTIVISM: OFFICIAL
a meeting of students with a local official to urge passage of stricter gun
|Very unlikely (5)||13.2|
|Very likely (1)||23.5|
28) ACTIVISM: MARCH
in a demonstration or protest march for stronger gun control.
|Very unlikely (5)||25.9|
|Very likely (1)||13.6|
29) ACTIVISM: VOLUNTEER 5 HOURS
5 hours a week for a gun control group.
|Very Unlikely (5)||30.9|
|Very likely (1)||9.8|
30) ACTIVISM: YOUTH INFLUENCE
the same 1-to-5 scale, how likely do you think it is that organized efforts
by young people could influence gun laws?
|Very unlikely (5)||6.7|
|Very likely (1)||21.9|
best describes the place you live? Rural Area; Suburb; Town or City under
100k; Medium-sized City, between 100k & 500k; Large City over 500k .
32) NEIGHBORHOOD INCOMES
Compared to other Americans, would you say that
the families in your neighborhood have incomes in the top third, in the
middle third, or in the lower third?
33) NEIGHBORHOOD GUN PURCHASE
it be easy for a person your age, living in your neighborhood to obtain a
|NEIGHBORHOOD GUN PURCHASE||%|
34) NEIGHBORHOOD GUN VIOLENCE
your knowledge, has anyone ever been killed or seriously injured by a gunshot
in your neighborhood?
|NEIGHBORHOOD GUN VIOLENCE||%|
35) WHEN GUN VIOLENCE?
How recently did this happen? Stop me when I get to the right time period.
Within the last week, within . . .
(Asked only of respondents who answered
Yes to #34)
|WHEN GUN VIOLENCE?||%|
37) RACE/ ETHNICITY
category best describes your ethnic or racial background? White, Black or African American, Hispanic,
Asian, Other or Mixed.
Do you live with both parents, your mother only,
your mother and stepfather, your father only, or your father and stepmother,
neither parent, or shared time with both.
[2PARENTS & PARENTS]
39) FAMILY INCOME
If you had to make a rough guess, what will
your family's income be this year?
40) FATHER’S EDUCATION
How much education did your father complete?
Did not complete high school, High School, Some College, College graduate,
Post graduate education.
41) MOTHER’S EDUCATION
How much education did your mother complete?
42) LONG GUNS
Do you or anyone else in your household own
a rifle or shotgun?
Do you or anyone else in your household own
Do you or anyone in your household belong to
the NRA-- the National Rifle Association?
45) POLITICAL PARTY
you consider yourself a Democrat, Republican or neither?
you consider yourself Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion or
no religion at all?
47) BORN AGAIN
Would you describe yourself as an evangelical
or born again Christian? [Not asked of respondents who replied Jewish or none
on previous question]
48) VIDEO GAMES
In the past week, have you played any first
person action games, such as Half-Life, Bond or Quake, where the objective
is to kill your opponent?
What have your grades been during the current
school year? Stop me when I get to the right level
|A's & B's||33.0|
|B's & C's||17.2|
|C's & D's||5.2|
|D's & F's||1.1|
50) STUDY PLANS
How much schooling do you expect to complete?
May not finish HS, HS, Some College,
College graduate, Post graduate education
For more information contact Dennis Gilbert via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-244-5654.
*NOTES: Results are weighted for parents’ education, for region, race/ethnicity, and year in school. “Not sure” responses (always volunteered) and refusals were excluded from tabulations unless they exceed 1 percent of sample.
 These polls were conducted in April 2000 (CNN), May 2000 (ABC/Post), and Sept-Dec. 1999 (NORC). (The NORC “National Gun Policy Survey” was done in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research). Comparisons were also made with polls conducted by Gallup in May 2000 and CBS in August 1999. There was some variation in the language used by different polling organizations.
 The comparison is with the 1999 CBS poll, which used slightly different language. CBS referred to the "second amendment to the Constitution," while Hamilton simply asked about “the Constitution.”
 Here the comparison involves identical language used in the 1999 NORC survey and the Hamilton poll.
 These figures and those in the table that follows are based on responses from 92 percent of the sample. The activism items were not asked of the 8 percent whose previous answers indicated they are generally opposed to gun control. A separate set of activism questions were put to this anti-control minority in the pilot survey discussed below, but dropped from the final poll because small numbers made statistical significance problematic.
 Proportion of responses of 4 or 5 on five-point scale, with 5 defined as "very likely" and 1 as "very unlikely."
 These potential gun control activists gave an average response of 4 or above on a 5-point scale to items about willingness to sign a gun control position, participate in a protest march, etc. See section on activism above.
 Support for all four measures was 44 vs. 63 percent.
 The Hamilton researchers are grateful for comments received from Judy Bonderman, Tracy Merrill, Stephen Teret, David Hemenway, and Susan Sorenson.