Survey | Politics | Health


Part 1: Opinions on “red flag” laws

A strong majority of Americans—including two out of three gun owners—express support for a "red flag" law that would allow a family member to seek a court order to temporarily take away guns if they feel a gun owner may harm themselves or others.

A strong majority of Americans—including two out of three gun owners—express support for a "red flag" law that would allow a family member to seek a court order to temporarily take away guns if they feel a gun owner may harm themselves or others.

Aug. 20, 2019

Our nonpartisan, nationally representative survey provides new information about the American public’s opinions about gun policies and behaviors among those who own guns (or live with those who do). The survey was conducted July 16 to 21, 2019, just two weeks prior to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. It covered several topics which will be released in waves.

What do Americans think of “red flag” or ERPO laws?

This survey finds widespread support among American adults for “red flag” laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), which allow a family member or the police to seek a court order to temporarily take away guns if they feel a gun owner may harm themselves or others. More than three-fourths of American adults support family-initiated ERPOs, the majority of whom say they “strongly” support such measures. Similarly, 70 percent support police-initiated ERPOs.


Who supports and opposes ERPOs?

This representative survey of over 1,000 American adults allows us to compare the level support of “red flag” laws among several groups. The main takeaway from that analysis is that a majority of Americans, regardless of background, support Extreme Risk Protection Orders.


In some cases, however, the level of support for ERPOs differs in interesting ways:

  • Women are more likely to support “red flag” laws than men, especially family-initiated ERPOs, for which there is a 13 percentage point difference between the proportion supporting (83% among women, 70% among men).

  • Higher educational attainment is associated with higher levels of support for “red flag” laws, especially police-initiated ERPOs.

  • Regionally, a higher proportion of those living in the northeastern states support “red flag” laws than is the case in the southern and western states. Western states have the highest level of opposition for police-initiated ERPOs, with 35% opposed.

  • A higher share of those living in metropolitan areas support “red flag” laws than do rural residents (those who live outside of metro areas).

  • Strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents support “red flag” laws. Support is strongest among Democrats, with 78% supporting police-initiated ERPOs and 85% supporting family-initiated ERPOs (compared to 66% and 70%, respectively, among Republicans).

  • Even among gun owners, a majority support “red flag” laws.

    • 60% of gun owners support police-initiated ERPOs.

    • 67% of gun owners support family-initiated ERPOs.

  • Interestingly, those who did not themselves own guns, but lived with someone who did, are far more supportive of family-initiated ERPOs (78%) than they are of police-initiated ERPOs (57%).

In addition, we analyzed the results by several other characteristics, including age, household income, race and ethnicity (non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic Black, and Hispanic or Latino), whether the respondent is a parent with a child under age 18 living with them, and residence in a state that has passed some sort of ERPO law compared with other states. These additional comparisons did not find differences in response patterns from the national findings; a similar majority of each of these groups supports Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

Gun ownership: Characteristics

According to our survey, 29% of American adults own one or more guns, and another 8% do not identify as gun owners themselves but live with someone who owns a gun. This amounts to about 75 million gun-owning adults nation-wide, and another 19 million with at least some level of access to a gun through the ownership of another person in their household.


This survey reveals several differences in patterns of gun ownership:

  • A much higher proportion of men than women own a gun (37% compared with 22%).

  • Higher proportions of those age 55 and older, as well as those age 35-44, own guns than is the case for those in the 18-34 and 45-54 age ranges.

  • There is not a statistically significant difference in access to guns when comparing households with children to those without children; i.e., parents are equally likely to own guns as those who are not parents.

  • A higher proportion of White Americans own guns (35%) than is the case for either African Americans (20%) or Latino Americans (12%).

  • A higher proportion of those who have attained some college education own guns than is the case among those whose highest degree is a high school diploma or less education.

  • Lower-income households are less likely to own guns than are higher-income households. Only 14% of those from households with annual incomes below $50,000 own guns, as opposed to 30% or more of those from higher-income households.

  • Metropolitan residence is strongly related to gun ownership, with 41% of those living in rural areas (outside of metropolitan areas) owning a gun, compared with 25% of those living in metro areas.

  • Gun ownership rates are more than twice as high among Republicans than Democrats (44% compared with 19%).


The APM Research Lab conducted this survey jointly with two partners: Guns & America, a reporting collaboration of 10 public radio stations covering the role of guns in American life; and Call to Mind, American Public Media's initiative to foster new conversations about mental health. Data collection was conducted by SSRS of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.