Profiling and Predicting Opinions on Gun Control: A Comparative Perspective on the Factors Underlying Opinion on Different Gun Control Measures

71 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2011 Last revised: 22 Oct 2011

See all articles by Amy Semet

Amy Semet

Princeton University; Yale University - Law School

Stephen Ansolabehere

Harvard University - Department of Government

Date Written: July 13, 2011


In recent years, scholars have advanced theories to explain the genesis of the public’s attitude toward one of our most fundamental rights - the Second Amendment's protection of the right of the people to keep and bear Arms. Many conclude that an individual's support or opposition to gun control is a product of differing cultural worldviews. Proponents of this viewpoint contend that individuals espousing hierarchical viewpoints are more likely than those holding more egalitarian viewpoints to oppose gun control. Other scholars advance an instrumentalist explanation to understand differing views on gun control. Scholars of this persuasion argue that an individual’s viewpoint on handgun ordinances’ likely effectiveness motivates opinion or that an individuals own fear of violent crime results in differing perceptions on how gun rights should be restricted. In this paper, we do a statistical analysis examining the factors that underlie differences in opinion on various gun control measures. Whereas many preceding studies look at only one gun control measure, such as handgun bans or police permits, we examine opinion on a vast array of gun control measures including handgun and assault rifle/semi-automatic weapon bans, concealed weapons restrictions, registration restrictions and background checks. Utilizing the results of a survey of the constitutional attitudes of over 1,000 participants, we adopt a comparative perspective in contributing to the debate on the factors underlying opinion on gun control. Although we find some support for the notion that an individual’s cultural worldwide matters - at least according to our survey - egalitarian or libertarian factors do not appear to be as important a motivator of public attitudes as they do not achieve statistical significance in multivariate regression analysis once we control for other factors. Indeed, we find that demographic cleavages, most importantly along the lines of gender, or the individual’s underlying viewpoint on constitutional issues, such as on Roe v. Wade or free speech, matters as much or more so than their cultural worldview in informing opinion on gun control. Further, to the extent a cultural worldwide informs opinion on gun control, our survey indicates that it is a libertarian worldview - as opposed to an egalitarian view - that predicts opinion.

Suggested Citation

Semet, Amy and Ansolabehere, Stephen, Profiling and Predicting Opinions on Gun Control: A Comparative Perspective on the Factors Underlying Opinion on Different Gun Control Measures (July 13, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Amy Semet (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

Stephen Ansolabehere

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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