Ask America Anything Results: How the US Feels about Gun Control & Domestic Violence

April 14, 2016 Ola Topczewska

In December, we invited nonprofits to Ask America Anything by giving away two questions on our weekly national representative survey of 2,500 Americans.

While we received many excellent submissions from great organizations, making it difficult to choose our winner, Civis Analytics selected the National Domestic Violence Hotline (The Hotline) as our contest winner. The Hotline wanted to gauge public opinion on three key policy areas:

  • A federal policy loophole that allows certain convicted perpetrators of domestic violence to buy guns.
  • Gun access for individuals convicted of misdemeanor stalking.
  • The appropriate time to educate children on healthy relationships.

We believe that with access to data on national opinion toward these policies, The Hotline can more effectively advocate for policy changes which will protect victims of domestic violence.

And the results are fascinating:

  • 85% of Americans support restrictions on gun access for individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.
  • 80% of Americans think a person convicted of a misdemeanor stalking should not be allowed to buy a gun.
  • 50% of Americans believe that education about abusive relationships should start in elementary school.

Background on The Hotline and the issues

The Hotline provides free, confidential support 24/7 to people affected by domestic violence and operates loveisrespect, a project focused on teens and young adults, in partnership with Break the Cycle. The Hotline also advocates for policies that seek to protect individuals from domestic violence, including reducing gun access for individuals convicted of domestic abuse, as well as early childhood education on healthy relationships.

Given its mission, The Hotline wanted to understand more about public opinion on a federal gun policy loophole, gun access for individuals convicted of stalking, and the appropriate time to educate children about healthy relationships. First, some background: Federal laws prevent certain perpetrators of domestic violence from having access to firearms. However, this protection is not in place when the victim is someone who is dating, but not living with their abuser, even if the victim has the same kind of protection order or the offender is convicted of the same misdemeanor crime. This discrepancy – the “boyfriend gap”– is a loophole in federal law that domestic violence advocates would like to close.

Additionally, current federal laws do not prevent people who are convicted of misdemeanor stalking from possessing or purchasing firearms. Many people have the erroneous belief that stalking does not pose a major threat. However, research has found that about 1 in 5 victims of stalking fear bodily harm to themselves, and 1 in 6 fear for the safety of a child or other family member.

What we found

Our survey for The Hotline consisted of two questions: a gun control question and a question about the appropriate school level at which to teach children about healthy relationships. You can read more about the specific questions at the end of this post.

Overall, most people are not supportive of granting gun access to perpetrators of domestic and dating violence.

Which counties are the most supportive of limiting gun access for perpetrators of domestic and dating violence?

Which counties are the most supportive of limiting gun access for perpetrators of domestic and dating violence?

Nationally, most people support limiting the gun access of perpetrators of domestic violence. However, some counties feel this way more strongly than others. Urban counties, the Midwest, and the Atlantic coast are especially in favor of these restrictions.

1) There’s no public opinion support for the “boyfriend gap” (the legal loophole that allows perpetrators of dating violence to purchase firearms).

Do you support or oppose this person being allowed to legally purchase a gun?

Do you support or oppose this person being allowed to legally purchase a gun?
Margin of Error
Spousal scenario(N=875): Dating scenario (N=878):
Oppose 84.3% +/- 2.4% Oppose – 84.6% +/- 2.4%
Not Sure – 6.8% +/- 1.6% Not Sure – 6.8% +/- 1.7%
Support – 8.8% +/- 1.9% Support – 8.8% +/- 1.9%

Civis’ polling found that nationwide, public opinion does not support the “boyfriend gap”. People were equally likely to say they opposed a person convicted of domestic abuse being allowed to purchase a gun when the victim was described as a spouse or a non-cohabiting dating partner.

2) Most Americans support restrictions on gun access for individuals convicted of stalking. Nationwide, 80% of the population says they oppose a person found guilty of stalking being allowed to purchase a gun – and 63% feel this way “strongly”.

A person is convicted of misdemeanor stalking, after repeatedly following a stranger home and calling them at work. Do you support or oppose this person, convicted of domestic abuse, being allowed to legally purchase a gun?

Do you support or oppose this person, convicted of domestic abuse, being allowed to legally purchase a gun?
Margin of Error
Strongly Oppose 63.3% +/- 3.3%
Somewhat Oppose 16.7% +/- 2.5%
Don’t Know 6.7% +/- 1.7%
Somewhat Support 7.0% +/- 1.7%
Strongly Support 6.3% +/- 1.7%

3) When it comes to gun access for individuals convicted of domestic abuse and stalking, Republicans and Democrats agree more than you might expect.

Margin of Error
Republicans, spousal scenario 80.8% +/- 4.3%
Democrats, spousal scenario 86.9% +/- 3.4%
Republicans, control scenario 38.2% +/- 5.6%
Democrats, control scenario 71.2% +/- 4.6%

Republicans and Democrats generally agree on gun access restrictions for individuals convicted of domestic abuse and misdemeanor stalking.

While we do see a big partisan difference in our “control” scenario—only 38% of Republicans favor stricter gun control against the person in the baseline “verbal arguments” scenario, compared to 71% of Democrats—this partisan split largely disappears when we ask specifically about domestic abuse situations. This shows that while Republicans are more supportive of gun rights in general, they largely agree with Democrats about gun access in the context of a domestic abuse scenario.

4) Most Americans believe that education about abusive relationships belongs in school—with 50% believing it should start in elementary school.

Do you think this instruction should begin in elementary school, middle school, or high school, or do you think it doesn’t belong in school at all?

Do you think this instruction should begin in elementary school, middle school, or high school, or do you think it doesn’t belong in school at all?
Margin of Error
Does not belong in school 16.5% +/- .3%
Elementary school 50.2% +/- 1.7%
Middle school 22.2% +/- 1.4%
High school 5.8% +/- 0.8%
Don’t Know 5.3% +/- 0.8%

Where are Americans most likely to say that domestic violence education “doesn’t belong in school”?

Where are Americans most likely to say that domestic violence education “doesn’t belong in school”?

While most individuals believe children should be educated about healthy relationships in elementary school, some people feel this education does not belong in school at all. This map shows counties in the US shaded by the percentage of residents who say that education about healthy relationships doesn’t belong in school. Those in the Midwest, central South, and rural counties are more likely to say this education doesn’t belong in schools; In more populous counties and the coasts, individuals are more likely to believe this education does belong in schools. Note that in most counties, doesn’t belong is not the most likely response.

Beyond the data

We’re excited to see how The Hotline uses this data to pursue its goals of empowering survivors of domestic violence and changing the conversation around domestic violence and dating abuse. Equipped with these findings, they will continue to shape the national conversation about domestic violence and advocate for effective reform.

These results are based on a national phone survey of adults in the United States that Civis Analytics conducted from 2015-12-28 to 2016-01-08 with 3953 individuals. Respondents are sampled from nationally representative voter and consumer files. Results were weighted to the national adult population of the United States.

This post was co-authored by Ashley Lagaron.


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What we asked

Question 1: Because The Hotline was interested in support for gun control in a variety of domestic violence contexts, we split our first question into four different hypothetical scenarios and then asked survey respondents whether they supported restricting the right to purchase guns in the given scenario. Our variations tested a spousal abuse scenario, a dating partner abuse scenario, a stalking scenario, and a verbal fight scenario, which serves as a baseline, or “control” against which to compare the other scenarios.

  • A) A person is convicted of domestic abuse, after repeated incidents of threatening and physically striking their spouse. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this person, convicted of domestic abuse, being allowed to legally purchase a gun?

  • B) A person is convicted of domestic abuse, after repeated incidents of threatening and physically striking the person they are dating but not living with. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this person, convicted of domestic abuse, being allowed to legally purchase a gun?

  • C) A person is convicted of misdemeanor stalking, after repeatedly following a stranger home and calling them at work. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this person, convicted of stalking, being allowed to legally purchase a gun?

  • D) A person and their spouse get into repeated verbal arguments that are loud enough to be overheard by neighbors. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this person, who gets into frequent loud arguments with their spouse, being allowed to legally purchase a gun?

Question 2: All respondents heard the following education question:

People disagree about the right time to start teaching children about abusive relationships, including both emotional and physical abuse. Do you think this instruction should begin in elementary school, middle school, or high school, or do you think it doesn’t belong in school at all?

The post Ask America Anything Results: How the US Feels about Gun Control & Domestic Violence appeared first on Civis Analytics.

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