The GOP and Democratic gubernatorial candidates are opposites on gun issues

SAINT LEO, FL – The latest survey from the Saint Leo University Polling Institute shows that gun ownership appears to be increasing among some Floridians, and that 45.8 percent either strongly support or somewhat support the positions of the National Rifle Association, the advocacy group known for opposing any restrictions on gun ownership. On the other hand, more than half of those surveyed say they do not own any guns and 40.4 percent somewhat oppose or strongly oppose the positions of the NRA.

The survey contacted 500 Floridians between August 10 and August 16, 2018, and results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points. A national survey of 1,000 individuals during the same time period showed similar patterns in responses about gun policy.

The results from Florida may be particularly pertinent in the coming weeks because of the state’s gubernatorial election. The GOP candidate, Congressman Ron DeSantis, and the Democratic candidate, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, have very different opinions about guns and gun control. The survey indicates sharp divisions among the electorate, too, and that more people report holding strong sentiments on the issue—whichever side they land on.

“There’s a very stark choice between the two candidates on gun policy,” said Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute.  “Voters are unlikely to be ambivalent between the two choices presented to them in November. The important question to me will be how the candidates’ positions affect turnout. Will Democrats be more energized to enact restrictions or will Republicans be more energized to stop those efforts?”

For the first time this year the survey included this question about the NRA with the responses distributed as shown:

Please think about the National Rifle Association. How strongly do you support or
            oppose the association and its positions? Would you say:


Level of support or opposition Florida – August 2018 – % U.S. – August 2018 – %
Strongly support 25.2 24.9
Somewhat support 20.6 19.1
Combined support 45.8 44.0
Somewhat oppose 13.4 14.1
Strongly oppose 27.0 25.6
Combined opposition 40.4 39.7
No opinion either way 8 9.9
Unsure 5.8 6.4


When survey respondents were asked about whether they own firearms, and if so, what kind, 56.2 percent of Floridians say they do not own any guns. That percentage is down from the findings of the previous three years when more than 60 percent—and a high of 69 percent in 2015—said they do not own any guns. The same pattern played out nationally, and in the United States, 57.6 percent of the people in the most recent poll say they do not have guns.

Of those who do have guns, perhaps more than one and more than one kind, the handgun is the most popular weapon, currently owned by 33.6 percent in Florida and 30.8 percent nationally. Those figures have crept up since 2015, when 23.5 of Floridian respondents said they owned one or more handguns, and 23.4 percent nationally reported they did. Percentages of respondents who say they own rifles or shotguns persists in both samples at less than 20 percent. For the first time this year, percentages of respondents saying they own assault weapons reached the double digits, with 10 percent of the Florida respondents saying so, and 10.6 percent of respondents nationally saying they have an assault weapon(s).

Personal Feelings of Safety or Vulnerability

The survey posed a number of different questions about how people feel in various settings, and asked them to describe their feelings on a scale of one to 10. Answers in the 1-to-4 range mean someone feels safe, and answers between 7 and 10 mean they feel unsafe. The area in the middle is neutral. Just over half the Florida respondents, 50.4 percent, say they would feel safe if they had a firearm with them while in a public place; by contrast, 25 percent say having a firearm in public would make them feel unsafe. In the national sample, neither percentage ranked as high as in Florida: 41.8 percent say having a firearm makes them feel safe and 32 percent would feel unsafe.

Respondents were also asked if they would feel safe in a public area if other people were armed. That did not inspire as much confidence: in Florida, 40.8 percent of people would feel safe if others were armed, nearly 10 points fewer than those who feel safer when they are carrying a weapon. The Florida survey also shows 36.4 percent feel unsafe if other people are armed. National figures show gaps in confidence about the way people view themselves compared to others. That is, only 34 percent feel safe if someone else is armed, compared to the 41.8 percent who feel safe when they are armed themselves. People who feel unsafe in public areas when other people are armed account for 41.2 percent in the national sample. That’s a spread of nearly 10 points from the 32 percent who feel scared when they have a firearms with them in public.

Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall, a Saint Leo professor of social work, addressed the findings. “Most respondents feel safer when they have a gun in public but less safe when others have a gun. So there’s an assumption that they can carefully handle a gun but others can’t,” she said. As a violence researcher, she cautioned that independent studies do not support that notion. “That approach to gun ownership is not very realistic and it’s also not very accurate,” she said.

Saint Leo University psychology faculty member Dr. Christopher Wolfe reviewed the responses in light of additional responses showing significant percentages of people reporting levels of concern (very concerned or somewhat concerned) about terrorism while attending large events in the United States. In Florida, 65.6 percent report concern, which is actually down from 70.8 percent in 2017, and 71.2 percent in 2016. Nationally, the concern level is at 65.7 percent, which is relatively steady with the two prior years.

“Truly, more research is needed to understand whether safety is increased by simply increasing the number of firearms available in the situation,” Wolfe said. “Research and review into shootings across time in this country, from individual experiences to mass shootings, demonstrates that the presence of another firearm or even trained armed individuals does not necessarily ensure safety.”

Approaches to School Safety

On a related topic, the survey asked respondents their ideas about policies under consideration or in place in various American K-12 schools and college campuses. Respondents were shown statements and were asked if they strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly agree. The cumulative totals for strongly and somewhat agree statements are shown here, along with the stated ideas.

School Safety Statements Florida Strongly & Somewhat Agree – % National Strongly & Somewhat Agree – %
Students in colleges and public K-12 schools would be safer if select/trained teachers or professors carried firearms 49.4 49.5
K-12 school and college campuses should have trained and armed officers on duty while students are present 82.4 76.3
Anti-bullying programs are an important part of K-12 school and campus violence prevention strategies 85.6 83.9
Police and school resource officers, responding to K-12 school and campus violence, should be required to complete training in mental health and child adolescent development 82.2 84.4


Wolfe noted that “The majority of those surveyed believe more effort and focus should be placed on anti-violence/bullying programs in schools, and that responding officers and school personnel should have additional training in how to respond appropriate to children and teens in these intense settings.” In his experience, he added, “mental health issues, and the stigma that they come with, is an ‘everybody problem.’ ’’

More questions were asked on the topic of gun ownership, security, and specific Florida school security spending. The material is available at the polling site here with press releases and under Poll Reports.

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: The poll sampled opinions of 500 Florida respondents. The survey was conducted August 10 through August 16, 2018. All surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument. The Florida poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis) with questions asked of all 500.To attain a representative view of the electorate, the sample included 172 Republican voters and 188 Democratic voters, along with 117 unaffiliated voters. The balance belong to another party, or were unsure of their current party status.

The national sample contained 1,000 adults polled during the same time frame. The margin of error for national responses is +/- 3 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level. Of the 1,000 adults, 271 identified themselves as Republicans, 315 as Democrats, and 346 as unaffiliated. The rest were members of another party, or were unsure of their current party status.

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 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

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


More About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving more than 13,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 90,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.