Research Reports

Public Support for Firearms Licensing Found to be Strong, Widespread

The Joyce Foundation has a long history of funding research to understand what policies are most effective in reducing gun violence in our communities. In recent years, we have supported several studies to better understand the impact of firearm background check policies. This research comes amid substantial attention by policy makers and advocates on universal background checks as a critical component of an evidence-informed policy response to gun violence. Importantly, we have learned through this effort that not all background check policies are the same, and how these laws are designed and implemented makes a huge difference in their overall effectiveness.

Firearms licensing, also known as “Permit to Purchase” in some states, is one of those policy design and implementation features that has recently become the focus of researchers. Last year, a report released by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research examining this issue found that background checks systems that are part of a firearms licensing regime are more effective than those that rely on a point of sale background check requirement alone. Most importantly, of the approaches used by states to screen out prohibited individuals from owning firearms, the Johns Hopkins report found that only firearms licensing has been shown to reduce gun homicides and suicides.

Notwithstanding growing evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of firearms licensing policies, and the elevated profile licensing has received in policy debates around the country, little has been known about the public's view of licensing policies. To address this gap in knowledge, The Joyce Foundation and The Kendeda Fund teamed up with the Global Strategy Group (GSG) in November 2019 to commission a nationwide survey to gauge the public’s perceptions around this policy. GSG surveyed 1,200 likely voters, including oversamples of the Latinx and Black communities.

The survey found that voters of all backgrounds and political affiliations overwhelmingly support firearms licensing, and this support is consistent in all regions of the country. Among Latinx and Black communities, support for this policy was particularly strong: with 91% and 93% of those communities supporting this policy respectively. And even among gun owners, 77% of that community supports this policy option. In total, support for firearms licensing is nearly as widespread and intense as it is for some of the most popular gun violence prevention policies, including universal background checks.

According to GSG’s analysis, Americans support licensing in such large numbers because they see licensing as a new, smart policy that closes current loopholes in the law, and importantly, makes current firearm laws easier to enforce. As a result, respondents believe that firearms licensing policies can have a tangible impact in our communities and should be pursued by policymakers.

In the coming months and years, we will continue to learn more about how to best design and implement background checks policies, and more specifically, firearms licensing systems. But suffice it to say, the firearms licensing picture is increasingly coming into focus. And that picture shows a policy that is supported by the evidence, policymakers, and now voters.

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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