Americans Savor Their Right to Bear Arms Most Americans still want the right to bear arms — and the opposition to a ban on the sale of handguns has grown stronger. A sampling of polls show how opinions on gun laws have evolved over the past two decades.
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Americans Savor Their Right to Bear Arms

Over the years, most Americans have had strong opinions on an individual's right to bear arms.

According to various polls, Americans generally have favored retaining their personal rights under the Second Amendment over an absolute ban on guns.

In a June 2008 poll taken by CNN, an overwhelming 87 percent of Americans opposed laws preventing all Americans from owning guns.

When it comes to controlling gun ownership, however, most people say that while regulation is important in principle, they would oppose a ban on handgun sales, says Carroll Doherty of the Pew Research Center. And that opposition has grown stronger.

"People feel overwhelmingly that Americans do, in fact, have the right to own guns," Doherty says. "There's opposition to a ban on possessing or selling guns, but there is also a feeling ... a desire in favor of controlling gun ownership."

Here is a history of public opinion on gun laws based on the results of each nuanced poll — and how they have (or haven't) evolved:

Fewer and Fewer Want Stricter Gun Laws

In February 2008, a USA Today/Gallup poll found that 49 percent wanted gun laws to be stricter; 38 percent said they'd like them to stay as they are.

The number of Americans who want stricter laws has slowly declined over the past two decades.

In 1990, 78 percent of people polled by Gallup wanted stricter laws; 17 percent said they'd like them to stay as they are; a mere 2 percent wanted them to be less strict.

Three years later, Congress passed The Brady Handgun Violence Act, which forced gun dealers to consult with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a gun. Later that year, 67 percent of Americans still advocated stricter gun laws, while 25 percent wanted them kept as they were, and 7 percent wanted less strict laws.

By 2000, 62 percent said 'yes' to stricter laws, while 5 percent said they wanted less strict laws, and 31 percent wanted to maintain the status quo. And in 2006, 56 percent desired stricter laws, 9 percent wanted less strict laws, and 33 percent said they wanted them to stay the same. All in all, the poll results show Americans shifting away from strict gun laws.

A Harris Poll found similar results: In 1998, 69 percent of Americans wanted stricter gun laws, and 23 percent wanted the laws to be less strict. By 2004, 60 percent wanted stricter laws; 32 percent wanted them loosened. Then in 2008, 49 percent wanted stricter laws, 20 percent wanted them less strict, and 21 percent wanted neither.

A Stronger Opposition to the Ban on Handgun Sales

In May 2008, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 59 percent of Americans said they would oppose a law that banned the sale of handguns. The poll was based on an April survey of 1,502 adults. That's an increase from the 51 percent of Americans polled after the Brady Act in 1993 who said they would oppose a handgun ban.

Most Americans Still Want Handguns Registered

Before the Supreme Court handed down its decision, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll of 1,035 adults found that 79 percent of Americans favored requiring gun owners to register their guns with the local government. That opinion has been the majority since the early 1980s. In a 2000 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, 73 percent of Americans said they would favor the registration of all handguns. That was down from 81 percent in 1993, but up from 66 percent in 1982.