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Most Teens Think Tighter Gun Control Would Reduce Mass Shootings, According To This Survey

The answers show that teens see the nuances of the gun control debate.

Posted on July 30, 2018, at 12:54 p.m. ET

Bob Strong / Reuters

Protesters hold signs during a March for Our Lives demonstration demanding gun control in Sacramento, California.

Although most US teens are not outright anti-gun, many think stricter gun control laws would reduce mass shootings, according to a new survey.

The gun control survey includes the opinions of 772 teens who were asked their thoughts between July 2017 and January 2018 — before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen students and staff members were killed in that shooting on Feb. 14 and the March for Our Lives movement was born in its aftermath.

In the survey, 62% of US teens said gun control laws could be used to decrease mass shootings, while 33% said they thought there would be no impact if access to guns was more strictly controlled. Only 2% felt that gun control laws could increase mass shootings, while 3% were unsure, according to a report published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The survey was done with the National MyVoice Text Message Cohort, a survey system that polls teen using text messages. Rather than picking from a list of options, teens can send their raw opinion — emojis and all — to researchers, who then sort the responses into types to be analyzed.

"Yes!! They would make it harder to get guns right away, or at all if u have a record of crime or instability," said one teen who thought gun control would reduce mass shootings.

"Yes. Less guns, less deaths. Basic logic," another said.

One teen who thought tighter regulations of guns wouldn't have an impact said, "Bad people will still find a way to get what they want and the good people will not be able to protect themselves."

Bob Strong / Reuters

The teens were also asked their thoughts about having guns in their home, and 34% were against it. "They are a threat. Dangerous. The main point is to kill. Why would I want that?" said one respondent.

Another 28% were in favor of having guns in their home, with some saying it made them feel safer.

The biggest slice, 38%, said guns at home were okay — but only under certain conditions.

"It's alright to have 1 or 2 for protection, but they must be locked away very carefully so they may not be reached by children. And there is no need for a whole arsenal," said one teen.

They were also asked if they thought anyone should not be allowed to own guns at all. Overall, 50% of the teens said people with criminal records, 50% said those with a history of mental illness, and 22% said anyone with a history of being dangerous to themselves or others shouldn't be allowed to own a gun.

"It was really encouraging that the nuances of gun control weren't lost on youth," Kendrin Sonneville, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and one of the researchers who conducted the study, told BuzzFeed News.

Rather than being firmly pro- or anti-gun, Sonneville said the answers show that teens want gun freedom to be balanced with the need for safety.

The answers showed nuance in other ways too. One teen who said that those with a history of mental illness shouldn't have access to guns clarified "but not people with simple things, such as anxiety.”

"I think the takeaway message is that youth aren't firmly anti-gun," said Sonneville.

Overall, 1,153 teens were invited to take the survey and 772 responded, which is a 67% response rate. Although the MyVoice group is not a nationally representative sample of people, the study authors noted that they aimed for a meaningful and diverse sample based on national benchmarks in terms of age, gender, race/ethnicity, educational level, family income, and geographical region.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.