This week, President Barack Obama announced executive gun control measures aimed at reducing gun violence in America. Although opinion polls on the issue show solid support for certain restrictions, CNBC got behind the numbers to see how the public really feels about owning and regulating guns.
NORC, a social and economic research institute at the University of Chicago, conducts a biannual survey of gun ownership and public opinion in gun control. According to a general social survey report published by the institute last year, 31 percent responded having guns in their homes in 2014, down from 36 percent in the previous decade and 41 percent in 1994.
There has been a clear downtrend in gun ownership since its peak in the late '70s, according to NORC data. (Its findings are disputed by some observers yet broadly consistent with Gallup polling on the issue.) However, separate figures have shown a nationwide surge in gun sales and permit requests in the last few years — a phenomenon some have connected to public ire among Second Amendment supporters over Obama's proposals for new restrictions.
Key demographic and ideological differences between those who favor or oppose permit requirements remain rather high.
In some cases, that gulf has widened in recent years, hitting record highs.
According to the NORC survey of gun owners, 53 percent of respondents identified as Republicans and 25 percent as Democrats. Of that number, 83 percent of Democrats favored gun regulation while 59 percent of Republicans held the same view — a difference of 24 percentage points. Yet just a decade ago, the difference in gun regulation along party lines was around 10 percent.
When it comes to ethnicity, 40 percent of whites own guns, compared with 14 percent of nonwhites. Although the overall trend is down for both groups, the absolute differences between them still remain high: Roughly 82 percent of nonwhites favor gun regulation to 68 percent of whites — a difference of 14 percentage points.
The last time the gap was this high was in 1977, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
In addition to political affiliation and ethnic disparity, Americans are also split geographically on the issue.
The East Coast, for instance, has the largest variance in opinions on gun laws by political party. Some 86 percent of Democrats who own guns support gun permits, whereas 54 percent of Republicans favor the law in the same region — a difference of 32 percentage points.
Despite differences in opinion among various populations, some believe there's an undercurrent of popular bipartisan support for at least some level of gun controls.
"Although public opinion fluctuates based on political, religious, and other demographics and in response to major mass shootings or presidential politics, there appears to be a majority bipartisan desire to establish certain level of gun control — at least as measured by response to the question in the GSS," said Vishal Singh, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. Singh has closely studied the general social survey and has constructed an interactive visualization tool based on GSS data.
"In a country where popular votes in presidential elections rarely exceed 1-2 percentage points over 50, the survey numbers suggest a strong bipartisan desire to establish at least some level of gun control in the U.S.," he said.