Diverse Views on Gun Ownership, But Mental Health Supports and Some Gun Restrictions Both Seen as Beneficial By Majorities in Survey

A new nationwide survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute found a strong majority think police should be required to wear body cameras, and that the U.S. Department of Justice should continue to investigate when controversial incidents have occur involving local police forces in their communities. Poll respondents in Florida concurred.

The poll collected responses from 1,005 adults nationally. It was conducted online October 17-22, 2015. Two parts of the broad poll dealt specifically with confidence in law enforcement and related public safety issues, and opinions in the wake of mass shootings. The margin of error for responses is plus or minus 3 percentage points. The polling institute also gathered opinions from 521 Floridians on the same subjects, and in those instances, the margin of error was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. Patterns were often alike between national and Florida responses.

Public sentiment proved strongest on matters of accountability. This was revealed in a section of questions that asked poll respondents to read several statements and to indicate whether they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree, or were unsure.

Statements National Strongly & Somewhat Agree Florida Strongly & Somewhat Agree
Police officers should be required to wear body cameras to better assist in reviewing difficult incidents 86.8 percent 88.1 percent
The U.S. Department of Justice should continue to open investigations of community police departments following controversial incidents 79.0 percent 77.3 percent


“People think that it is important that the police be held accountable for their actions. That is evident from the strong support for body cameras (nearly 87 percent) and that the U.S. Justice Department continue investigating controversial incidents (79 percent),” said Dr. Eloy Nuñez, associate professor in the Department of Public Safety Administration at Saint Leo University.

A desire for accountability was not equated with disapproval or dislike of law enforcement in the survey. In another section, where people were asked to rate the quality and professionalism of their local departments and their local officers on a numerical scale, more respondents gave departments good scores (of 1 to 4) than gave them poor scores (of 7 to 10). That was true nationally and in Florida.

Ratings National Good 1-4 National Poor 7-10 Florida Good 1-4 Florida Poor 7-10
My community police department 54.3 22.2 57.4 18.7
The police officers in my community 53.6 22.4 57.2 19.4


“In general, people like their police, and even sympathize with police officers, but they want to make sure that they are also responsible for their actions,” commented Dr. Nuñez.

Further, Dr. Nuñez reflected: “People like the police when then need them, but they don’t like them when they get a ticket or get arrested, or when they’re too slow to respond to arrive at a call for service. There’s an acceptance that police are needed to maintain order in our society, but no one likes to be on the receiving end of punitive action. As a result, there will always be a duality about the public’s perception of the police.”

Additionally, a deeper look into the base of national responses collected on all the questions above tends to show differences in perceptions according to race. For instance:

  • Where the overall support level for requiring police to wear body cameras was already high at 86.8 percent, it was even higher among African-American respondents at 93.8 percent; among Hispanics at 90.6 percent; and a bit lower among whites at 84.7 percent.
  • As for seeking further DOJ investigatory effort in controversial cases, where support was high in the overall population at 79 percent, it was higher among African-Americans at 91.1 percent; higher also among Hispanics at 83 percent; and supported by 74.9 percent of whites.
  • Regarding local police department ratings, whereas 54.3 percent of the population overall assigned ratings considered good, only 41.8 percent of African-Americans assigned good ratings; 48 percent of Hispanics assigned good ratings; and 59 percent of whites assigned good ratings.
  • When it came to the rating of police officers—and 53.6 percent of the overall national sample assigned good ratings—there was a more dramatic difference: 38.4 percent of African-Americans assigned good ratings; 47.4 percent of Hispanics assigned good ratings; and 59.4 percent of whites assigned good ratings.

How Guns Factor into the Public Sentiment

The survey also probed public safety from another vantage point, and asked several questions in different sections about issues concerning firearms. The first question as posed in the section about policing issues, where respondents were presented with statements and asked whether they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree, or were unsure. The survey found high support nationally and in Florida for more attention to mental health issues to curb gun violence.

Statements National Strongly & Somewhat Agree Percent Florida Strongly & Somewhat Agree Percent
We should focus on mental health supports instead of gun controls 70.4 69.6
Gun violence would decrease with more controls and restrictions 46.0 46.4


When the question of potentially increasing mental health services was posed in the context of possibly helping to reduce the severity and numbers of mass shootings, there was also strong agreement for the idea. Nationally, a combined total of 75.2 percent said they thought increasing mental health treatment would be very or somewhat helpful. In Florida, the statistic was nearly identical at 75.5 percent.

A member of the psychology faculty at Saint Leo, Dr. Christopher Wolfe, reviewed the results and commented: “It is gratifying to see Americans desire for funding and support of mental health. Support for the efficient and effective treatment of mental health issues in the U.S. has often been put on the back burner when it comes to funding,” But, Dr. Wolfe added: “Unfortunately, this does not feel like a rallying cry of support because it is needed, but instead a knee-jerk reaction to media depictions of the horrendous mass shootings around the country.”

Gun Ownership and Attitudes Toward Controls

While half of the respondents nationally said they do not own a gun, almost a quarter own at least one handgun. In Florida, there were fewer gun owners, but nearly the same proportion of the sample said they own at least one hand gun. The survey asked which types of firearms were owned, and allowed for multiple responses.

Firearms Owned National Percent Florida Percent
Handgun(s) 23.4 23.5
Rifle(s) 17.7 13.3
Assault weapon(s) 5.6 2.9
Shotgun(s) 15.9 12.7
None 50.8 69.0
Unsure 1.6 1.7


Respondents were then asked about their positions on gun controls in general, and found   strong support—more than 70 percent—for some type of restrictions, both nationally, and in Florida.

Position on Gun Controls National Percent Florida Percent
There should be no regulations or controls on any firearms 12.8 9.8
There should be some limited licensing, permitting or some restrictions on certain arms such as assault weapons 73.2 72.4
Firearms should not be owned privately 8.5 12.5
Unsure 5.5 5.2


The survey also asked people about possible gun controls in the context of recent mass shootings by asking whether they agreed with various statements. Responses showed some support for gun restrictions as a potential remedy, but also some support for carrying firearms as a means of protection.

Given Recent Mass Shootings Current Position National Percent Florida Percent
I continue to support gun ownership rights under the 2nd Amendment without exception and believe these mass shootings would be less frequent/horrific if more citizens were armed 26.5 21.6
I continue to support gun ownership rights under the 2nd Amendment without exception BUT don’t believe in an effort to arm more citizens 15.9 18.9
I support gun ownership rights but am open to more exceptions, regulations and restrictions 40.7 41.8
I continue to oppose private ownership of firearms 9.1 12.9


“The pattern of results on the issues of gun regulations and gun violence demonstrate the fractionated nature of the population on this debate,” said Dr. Wolfe, who is an assistant professor. “While clear consensus can be found on the need to propose some limitations or restrictions on firearms, both regulations on guns and how these regulations are enforced vary from state to state, and most federal policies rely on information from these varied state policies, thus the inconsistent results.”

Dr. Nuñez, from the Public Safety Administration Department at Saint Leo, offered an additional perspective. “Most people understand that gun violence involves guns and people.  One can’t do it without the other,” he said. “Therefore, the majority of the public realizes that the solutions to the problem should be aimed at both guns and people.  The findings indicate that most people favor some limited licensing, permitting or restrictions (which by the way… already exist). Most people attribute the root of the problem to mental illness.  Only 8.5 percent of the respondents indicated they opposed private ownership of firearms altogether.”

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can be found here: http://polls.saintleo.edu. You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

About the Saint Leo University Polling Institute/Methodology

This Saint Leo University poll sampled opinions of 1,005 adults approximately proportional to state population contribution nationwide. The survey was conducted between October 17 and 22, 2015, using an online survey instrument. The margin of error is approximately 3 percent +/- with a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 dollar deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a regionally accredited, liberal-arts-based institution known for an inclusive Catholic heritage, enduring values, and capacity for innovation. The school was chartered in 1889 by Catholic Benedictine monks in rural Pasco County, FL, making Saint Leo the first Catholic college in the state. Saint Leo provides access to education to people of all faiths, emphasizing the Benedictine philosophy of balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit.

The university welcomes learners from all generations and backgrounds, from civilian occupations and the armed forces, and from across the country and more than 60 nations around the world. Saint Leo’s nearly 16,000 undergraduate and graduate students may elect to study at the beautiful University Campus in Florida, at more than 40 teaching locations in seven states, or online from any location. The university’s degree programs range from the associate to the doctorate. Through these rich offerings, Saint Leo develops principled leaders for a challenging world.

Saint Leo University boasts nearly 80,000 alumni in all 50 states, Washington, DC, five U.S. territories, and 72 countries.

Media Contacts: Kim Payne, staff writer and media coordinator, at kim.payne@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-7233/(717) 798-1508 or Jo-Ann Johnston, academic communications manager, at jo-ann.johnston@saintleo.edu or (352) 588-8237/(352) 467-0843.