How young adults view guns, safety, and background checks
About 9 in 10 young adults say they support criminal background checks for all gun sales. And 59 percent of young adults overall say they think owning a gun protects a person from being a crime victim, according to a new GenForward survey.
Chicago — LaShun Roy supports a ban on semi-automatic weapons and more comprehensive background checks. But the 21-year-old gun owner from rural Texas doesn't consider gun-control measures a top priority in this year's elections.
For Keionna Cottrell, a 24-year-old who lives on Chicago's South Side and whose brother was shot and killed this year in another Illinois city, few things are more important than limiting access to guns.
"So many people are dying here because there is no control of the weapons out on our streets," said Cottrell. "Young men ... have real military guns and they're not scared to use them."
Although their lives and experiences differ, the young women's shared support for additional policies to curb gun violence reflect the feelings of many Americans between the ages of 18 and 30, regardless of their backgrounds, according to a new GenForward poll.
About 9 in 10 young adults say they support criminal background checks for all gun sales, a level of support that remains consistent across racial and ethnic groups. Stiffer penalties for violating existing gun laws are supported by 9 in 10 young adults, including about 9 in 10 whites, Asian-Americans and Latinos, as well as 8 in 10 African-Americans.
Fifty-seven percent of young Americans support a ban on rapid-firing semi-automatic weapons, with support especially high — 74 percent — among Asian-Americans.
GenForward is a survey by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The first-of-its-kind poll pays special attention to the voices of young adults of color, highlighting how race and ethnicity shape the opinions of a new generation.
Roy, a full-time college student who learned to handle assault rifles while serving in the National Guard, said it's possible to protect the rights of gun owners and implement safeguards. That puts her among the 54 percent of young adults — including 61 percent of Asian-Americans, 57 percent of African-Americans and 52 percent of Latinos and whites — who say laws limiting gun ownership do not infringe on the public's right to bear arms.
"I think it's important to make sure the government isn't going door to door saying, 'Let me see your guns and ammo,'" said Roy, who is black. "But I think it's really important to have background checks ... and make sure a felon can't get a gun."
She also believes a new Texas law that permits open carry on college campuses is a bad idea.
"What if someone's not doing well in class or a family member dies? What's to stop them from pulling out a gun and shooting the teacher or people in class?" she said. "You just have so many different emotions and types of people you go to school with."
The poll underscores the differences in young Americans' personal experiences, which they say helped shape their attitudes toward guns.
More than a third of African-Americans — 37 percent — and nearly a quarter of Latinos say they or someone they know has experienced gun violence in the last year, compared to only 12 percent of whites or Asian-Americans.
About 4 in 10 young adults say they live in households where someone owns a gun, including 21 percent who personally own one. Among young whites, 52 percent live in a gun-owning household, with 29 percent owning one personally. Twenty-four percent of young blacks, 23 percent of young Latinos, and 19 percent of young Asian-Americans live in gun owning households, though just 10 percent of Latinos and Asian-Americans and 11 percent of African-Americans say they own one personally.
Yet more than half of Americans age 18-30 say it's more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun rights. That includes 76 percent of young Asian-Americans, 63 percent of African-Americans, and 60 percent of Latinos. Young whites are divided, with 53 percent saying it's more important to protect gun rights and 46 percent saying it's more important to control gun ownership.
Saajan Bhakta, 21, of Wichita, Kansas, says he doesn't oppose gun ownership, but believes gun violence "needs to be addressed very promptly" with new laws restricting access for people with criminal records and some mental health issues and a ban on some semi-automatic weapons. He says the recent killings of police officers in Dallas, where he has close friends and family, showed "that it could happen anytime, anywhere, with anyone."
"Human behavior is predictable to a level, but also unpredictable," said Bhakta, who runs a humanitarian nonprofit organization and hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology. "Being on top of it from the beginning helps prevent unnecessary events."
He's among the majority of young Asian-Americans, 62 percent, who think owning a gun does more to put a person's safety at risk than to protect them from crime.
On the other hand, 59 percent of young adults overall say they think owning a gun does more to protect a person from being a crime victim, including nearly two-thirds of young whites, almost 6 in 10 Latinos and a slim majority of African-Americans.
Roy, the Texas college student, said there always has been a rifle in her family's home for self-defense, but she still believes guns pose a greater threat to most owners than criminals do.
"A lot goes into handling one safely," she said. "And a lot can go wrong if you don't know what you're doing."
The survey comes at a time when Democrats are attempting to shift the national conversation around guns as being a public health issue, The Christian Science Monitor reports.
"We're seeing a major shift in the Democratic party, and a real adoption of a public health language to talk about guns," Adam Winkler, professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, tells The Christian Science Monitor.
In June, the American Medical Associationmade headlines for calling gun violence in the US a public health crisis, an assessment that received criticism from conservatives. But some researchers say the classification can help change society's thought on how to go about addressing the issue.
"Framing it as a public health crisis expands how you view the problem and, therefore, approach it," Daniel Webster, the director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University, tells the Monitor.
The poll of 1,940 adults age 18-30 was conducted July 9-20 using a sample drawn from the probability-based GenForward panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. young adult population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
The survey was paid for by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago using grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.
GenForward polls: http://www.genforwardsurvey.com/
Black Youth Project: http://blackyouthproject.com/