Respondents Continue to Favor Increased Focus on Mental Health and Treatment

SAINT LEO, FL – The most recent Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( survey including questions on gun ownership and related sentiments found that more than 60 percent of individuals—nationally and in Florida—do not own any firearms.

This replicates the findings of the 2015 survey, completed around the same time of year. Saint Leo included questions on guns and public policy in a parallel survey conducted online nationally and in Florida from September 10 to September 16. The national survey attracted 1,103 responses, so the findings have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The Florida survey attracted 502 responses and so has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The survey asked individuals what firearms, if any, they own, and allowed for multiple responses. Handguns were most frequently cited among those who own firearms.

Firearms owned         and type 2015 National 2016 National 2015 Florida   2016 Florida 
None 66.7% 64.5% 69.0% 67.0%
Handgun(s) 23.4% 25.2% 23.5% 25.2%
Rifle(s) 17.7% 18.3% 13.3% 13.2%
Shotgun(s) 15.9% 16.6% 12.7% 12.6%
Assault weapon(s) 5.6% 4.0% 2.9% 4.4%
Unsure 1.6% 2.1% 1.7% 3.8%


There is not enough movement from year-to-year in any of the results to be statistically significant. Similarly, there was little change in people’s beliefs on gun control. People were asked which of three statements is closest to their own belief. The results are shown in descending order.


Position on gun controls –

Indicate which statement

best reflects your position 

2015 National              2016 National  2015 Florida   2016 Florida 
There should be some limited licensing, permitting or some restrictions on certain arms such as assault weapons 73.2% 74.9% 72.4% 76.2%
There should be no regulations or controls on any firearms 12.8% 12.6% 9.8% 9.6%
Firearms should not be owned privately 8.5% 8.1% 12.5% 7.8%
Unsure 5.5% 4.4% 5.2% 6.4%


Responses were more splintered when people were asked about their “own personal position toward gun ownership and gun regulation” given “the number of mass shootings nationwide.” No one position was popular with 50 percent or more. The statement that drew the most support was, “I support gun ownership rights but am open to more exceptions, regulations and restriction,” with 42.6 percent agreeing nationally in 2016, statistically similar to last year’s level of 40.7 percent. In Florida, 47.2 percent agreed in the recent poll, a slight increase from last year’s 41.8. About a quarter of respondents, nationally and in Florida, consistently say that mass shootings would be less frequent and less horrific if more citizens were armed, just as in 2015.

The survey also asked how safe people would feel (on a scale on one to 10) in three different situations, where the presence or absence of firearms and the people armed are the determining factors. One was the most safe on the scale, and 10 the least. Results are shown in the numerical ranges of 1 to 4 for most safe and 7 to 10 for least safe.

What if… and reported levels of feeling safe or unsafe US Safe (1-4) US Unsafe (7-10) Florida Safe (1-4) Florida Unsafe (7-10)
If police were not armed 13.9% 72.0% 15.8% 69.2%
If you had a firearm with you in public 49.8% 19.8% 48.4% 23.8%
If others, around you in a public place, were armed (either concealed or open carry) 32.0% 44.1% 32.8% 40.0%


A clear majority would feel unsafe if police were not armed.

Dr. Christopher Wolfe, an assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo University, said he was curious about the proportion who reported an increased sense of security if they were (hypothetically) armed, given the “limited gun ownership endorsed within the survey,” plus people’s natural tendency to stay fixed in patterns, such as owning guns or not owning them, rather than shifting from one identity to another. Wolfe speculated that the fact that almost half of respondents said they would feel safer when and if they were personally armed may be an outgrowth of an American tendency “to fantasize around their own abilities to act effectively in dangerous, anxiety-provoking scenarios.”

He noted Americans and Floridians didn’t feel as confident in each other to be effective in that regard. The national and state responses describing how safe people felt about the notion of other people (not police) carrying firearms were more than 15 to 17 points lower than when they thought about themselves being armed. That, Wolfe said, tends to support the explanation that people like to think of themselves as “heroic” individuals.

To discover public perceptions about another approach, the survey asked: “How helpful would increased funding and emphasis on mental health treatment be toward reducing the severity and frequency of mass shootings?” As was the case in 2015, both nationally and in Florida more than 75 percent felt such an approach would be very or somewhat helpful.

Professional studies, Wolfe commented, “suggest that expanding our definition of risk for misuse of a firearm to include individuals with substance-use problems and a history of aggression, and possibly even depression, would serve to reduce many of the most common acts of violence with a firearm­­—harm against the self (suicide) or harm against a loved one (such as accidental shootings and domestic violence).”

But he cautioned that there are those who are ill but not diagnosed, and hurdles to treatment when people resist recognizing signs of illness in themselves or in those around them. His professional fear, in spite of the sentiments reported, is that: “most Americans likely believe that these are problems of other people.”

More information is available in the poll report at

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications by email at or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text) or Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text)

More About Our Research

METHODOLOGY: The surveys were conducted using an online survey instrument from September 10 – September 16. The national sample included responses from 1,103 adults and has a margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

The Florida yielded responses from a parallel group of 502, with an associated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

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 be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

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 our 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. We welcome people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourage learners of all generations. We are committed to providing educational opportunities to our nation’s armed forces, our veterans, and their families. We are regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and we guide all our students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

We remain the faithful stewards of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where our founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 15,000 students, we have expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintain a physical presence in seven states. We provide highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 82,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.