Fresh new polling from Talk Business & Politics in conjunction with several partners presents attitudes from Arkansans on a variety of gun-related topics. TB&P, Hendrix College, Impact Management Group, and KATV Channel 7 partnered on the survey, which was conducted Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
KATV Ch. 7 used the survey’s questions as the basis for its Friday night Town Hall on open carry laws held on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
“We wanted to test a variety of different positions on gun laws in Arkansas,” said Roby Brock, Editor-in-Chief for Talk Business & Politics. “Clearly, Arkansas is a pro-gun state and the questions we framed were built to spark additional discussion about gun culture, test hot-button topics in this arena, and learn more about where and why Arkansas voters differ in their opinions on this very controversial subject.”
The survey reached 632 registered voters in Arkansas by cell phone with live callers and landline with automated calls. The poll has a margin of error of +/-3.9%.
“This is the first time we’ve tested this in-depth on the subject of gun freedom and control and I think the results are fascinating. While some conclusions are obvious, our polling identifies some very deep subsets of thinking that must be understood to have a more meaningful and inclusive debate on guns going forward,” Brock added.
Some of the biggest takeaways from the poll:
- 59% of Arkansans say they own guns, while 27% say they do not and 14% said they prefer not to answer the question
- There is a majority of support (58%) that concealed carry laws would make society safer, but a minority (38%) say open carry laws would make communities safer.
- When offered a choice of which is more important – protecting the right to own guns versus protecting citizens from gun violence – 56% said gun rights were more important. There was a massive racial disparity in the answers to this question, which is offered in the analysis below.
- 41% favor a nationwide ban on assault weapons compared to 49% who oppose
- 55% favor allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools versus 38% who oppose
- 73% favor “a lot” or “some” mental health screening and treatment in order to prevent gun violence
- 49% favor expanded background checks for firearms compared to 40% who oppose.
Click here for a PDF of the full poll results and demographic information.
Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, offered this analysis of the survey results.
In this wide-ranging survey regarding guns, Arkansans express their general commitment to maintaining gun freedom. However, on more specific policy questions related to the topic, a more mixed picture emerges. Moreover, below the surface, some interesting geographical and demographic diversity shows itself on Arkansans’ sentiments towards gun policy.
A healthy majority (56%) of Arkansans believe that the constitutional right to gun ownership trumps the protection of citizens from gun violence. A similar percentage (58%) of the state’s voters feel that laws covering the sale of guns should either be made less strict (19%) or kept as they are (39%).
Interestingly, on these questions, voters in central Arkansas (the 2nd Congressional District) and Northwest Arkansas (the 3rd Congressional District) are much more dubious about unbridled gun freedom. In those areas, 41% and 46% of voters, respectively, are more supportive of enhanced gun laws and voters are more likely to cite protecting citizens against gun violence as more important (Indeed, in the urban 2nd Congressional District, voters split 49% for protecting gun rights and 47% for protecting citizens against gun violence when given that choice). Otherwise, white voters, men, Republicans, and, unsurprisingly, those who own guns skew against making gun laws more strict and towards the importance of protecting the constitutional right to own guns. Younger voters are less consistent on the issues with those voters more likely to still be undecided on the general topic of gun rights.
When it comes to more specific gun policies, a plurality of Arkansans oppose a nationwide ban on assault weapons and majorities show support for concealed weapon carriers who have been trained and for teachers carrying guns in schools. On the other hand, these voters show deep angst about citizens openly carrying handguns with a plurality (47%) saying that would make them feel less safe and are supportive (49%) of President Obama’s series of executive orders announced earlier in the year. The latter is particularly interesting because of antipathy towards the President that has been shown in our polling of Arkansans across his time in office.
Finally, most of the state’s voters think that mental health screening and treatment would help significantly in thwarting gun violence. Across these topics, the same general geographic, political, and demographic patterns show themselves as with the general attitudes towards gun rights and gun control.
Finally, we asked Arkansans’ attitudes about the most visible gun rights organization — the National Rifle Association (NRA). A very healthy majority (67%)of the state’s voters are positive towards the NRA with 36% being very favorable and 31% somewhat favorable. While the political and demographic differences are somewhat less stark on attitudes towards the NRA, the patterns on other issues related to guns show themselves here.
The urban/suburban versus rural divide that shows itself in this polling is particularly interesting because it pulls together two congressional districts (the 2nd and 3rd) that tend to oppose each other in partisan politics. This suggests that on certain issues, the worldview created by living in a more densely populated place seems to transcend traditional partisan patterns and that urban/suburban Arkansans and rural Arkansans are living in two different states. Indeed, the results of the sharply divided GOP presidential primary in the state showed some similar geographical patterns.
Second, the racial divide on attitudes about guns and gun policy is stark. For example, on the question of whether protecting the constitutional right to own guns or protecting individuals against violence, white Arkansans lean towards the protection of gun rights by a 63%-29% margin. African-Americans, however, support protection of individuals against violence by a more overwhelming margin 72%-25%. (Although the sample of Latinos was so small as to prevent definitive analysis, that group split fairly evenly on the question.) Somewhat like the urban/suburban vs. rural divide in this state, these results (and similar ones that show themselves across the survey) show the dramatically different worldviews that Arkansans of different races have on guns.
Finally, those who own guns and those who do not diverge sharply on most of the questions in the survey in the expected manner. For instance, on the question regarding whether concealed carry laws enhance safety, gun owners believe the country would be safer with universal concealed carry laws by a 66% to 22% margin. Those who don’t own guns break against the efficacy of concealed carry laws by a somewhat surprising 48%-39% margin. On the gun ownership question, voters were also given the option not to answer the question. However, on this question that group broke almost exactly like gun owners (67% to 19%) hinting at the fact that this subgroup (14% of the sample) are likely gun owners hesitant to state their ownership.
All told, attitudes about guns and gun policies are at the heart of some of the starker divides in Arkansas. And, because gun policy debates remain so salient in the United States, such divisions are only likely to deepen.