Millennials Are No More Liberal On Gun Control Than Elders, Polls Show

Feb 24, 2018
Originally published on February 25, 2018 10:02 am

High school students across the United States have been leading the call for more gun control since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Some have called them the "voice of a generation on gun control" that may be able to turn the tide of a long-simmering debate.

But past polling suggests that people younger than 30 in the U.S. are no more liberal on gun control than their parents or grandparents — despite diverging from their elders on the legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage and other social issues.

"Sometimes people surprise us, and this is one of those instances that we don't know why," says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup.

Over the past three years, his polling organization asked the under-30 crowd whether gun laws in the U.S. should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are now. On average, people between the ages of 18 and 29 were 1 percentage point more likely to say gun laws should be more strict than the overall national average of 57 percent.

"Young people statistically aren't that much different than anybody else," Newport says.

'What a whole generation feels'?

Polling by the Pew Research Center last year came to similar conclusions: 50 percent of millennials, between the ages of 18 and 36, said gun laws in the U.S. should be more strict. That share was almost identical among the general public, according to Kim Parker, director of social trends research at Pew.

Pew did find significant differences between millennials and older generations on two gun control proposals — banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The results showed that a greater share of millennials — both Republicans and Democrats — are more conservative when it comes to those bans compared with Generation Xers, baby boomers and members of the silent generation.

"What we're hearing now in the immediate aftermath of Parkland might not be representative of what a whole generation feels," Parker says.

To be clear, many demographers argue that millennials make up one part of today's generation of young people. Some say that millennials include people born in the 1980s and all the way through 2000.

The teenage high school activists who have been organizing since the Florida shooting, they say, are part of a separate group some call "Generation Z." Pollsters generally don't count the views of those under 18, so there probably won't be national polling on this group until more of these young people are officially adults.

'A more progressive generation'?

Still, for 19-year-old Abigail Kaye, who considers herself a millennial, these polling results about her peers come as a shock.

"I think that's surprising because I feel like we're a more progressive generation," says Kaye, who attends the University of Delaware.

Kaye says she remembers hearing about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when she was growing up about a couple hours away in Scituate, R.I.

"We've grown up more, I think, with this kind of gun violence, so you'd think maybe we'd push for more regulations," she adds.

The poll findings also surprised some members of Students for the Second Amendment, a club at the University of Delaware.

The club's treasurer, Jordan Riger of Lutherville, Md., 22, says that after taking an National Rifle Association course on pistol shooting when she was 18, she has seen firearms as tools for self-defense. But she thinks many of her millennial peers don't.

"We are living in a time right now where we're seeing a lot more of these mass casualties," Riger says. "I think when people don't know that much about firearms, when they see it on the news used in horrible fashion, that's like all they associate it with."

Sitting outside a student center on the University of Delaware's campus, Cahlil Evans of Smyrna, Del., 20, says while he doesn't need a gun, he can understand why people would want hunting rifles and handguns. He draws the line, though, for assault-style rifles.

"There's no need for these high-caliber rifles that pierce through walls," Evans says. "People can say they use them for hunting or whatever, but why do you need a weapon with such high caliber that it would pierce through the animal and like eight trees behind it?"

Still, 22-year-old Jeremy Grunden of Harrington, Del., says he is encouraged to hear that millennials are less likely to support banning assault-style weapons.

"I base what we need off of what the military has," says Grunden, who is president of Students for the Second Amendment at the University of Delaware. "When it comes to ... the Second Amendment, we're supposed to be a well-armed and well-maintained militia and all that. Quite frankly, we need that and plus more."

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

In the days since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there have been calls for more gun control from high school students around the country. There's a lot of polling that indicates young people skew more liberal on social issues than their elders with one notable exception, and that's guns. Young adults are no more liberal than their parents or grandparents when it comes to gun control. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has more.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: We're going to start the sign-in sheet this week. So if you want to come over...

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Every week, inside a red brick building at the University of Delaware, there's a gathering of young advocates of the Second Amendment.

JORDAN RIGER: My name is Jordan Riger. I'm 22, and I'm the treasurer of the Students for the Second Amendment club here at UD.

WANG: Riger is keeping attendance on her laptop which shows off a yellow NRA bumper sticker with the words don't tread on my gun rights. On tonight's meeting agenda is a discussion about the gunman who killed 17 high school students and staff in Parkland, Fla.

RIGER: That's a violation of the Second Amendment. That's not what it was intended for, in my own personal view.

WANG: Riger was 18 when she took an NRA course on pistol shooting. She sees guns as self-defense tools, but she thinks many of her millennial peers don't.

RIGER: We are living in a time right now where we're seeing a lot more of these mass casualties. So I think when people don't know that much about firearms, when they see it on the news used in a horrible fashion, that's like all they associate it with.

FRANK NEWPORT: The question is, should gun laws in the U.S. be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are now?

WANG: That's what Frank Newport's polling organization, Gallup, has asked the under-30 crowd over the past three years. What they found was millennials feel pretty much the same about gun control as their elders. But Kim Parker, who leads social trends polling at the Pew Research Center, says millennials are more conservative than older generations when it comes to two gun control proposals.

KIM PARKER: The biggest gap that we see is on banning assault-style weapons.

WANG: And on banning high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Pew's polling last year found that a greater share of millennials, both Republicans and Democrats, are more conservative when it comes to those bans compared to older generations.

PARKER: What we're hearing now in the immediate aftermath of Parkland might not be representative of what a whole generation feels.

WANG: To be clear, some demographers argue that millennials make up one part of today's generation of young people. They say that millennials include people born in the '80s and all the way through 2000 and that the teenaged high school activists who have been organizing since the Florida shooting are part of a separate group some call Generation Z. Still, for 19-year-old Abigail Kaye, who considers herself a millennial, the polling results about her peers come as a shock.

ABIGAIL KAYE: I think that's surprising because I feel like we're a more progressive generation.

WANG: Kaye said says she remembers hearing about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School when she was growing up about a couple hours away. Fellow University of Delaware student Cahlil Evans is 20 and says he doesn't need a gun. And he can understand why people would want hunting rifles and handguns, but assault-style rifles?

CAHLIL EVANS: There's no need for these high-caliber rifles that pierce through walls. And people can say they use them for hunting or whatever. But why do you need a weapon with such high caliber that'll pierce through the animal and like eight trees behind it?

JEREMY GRUNDEN: I base what we need off of what the military has.

WANG: Jeremy Grunden is 22, president of the students for the Second Amendment at the University of Delaware. And he says he's encouraged to hear that millennials are less likely to support banning assault-style weapons.

GRUNDEN: When it comes comes like the Second Amendment, we're supposed to be a well-armed and well-maintained militia and all that. Quite frankly, I feel like we need that and plus more.

WANG: Many of the high schoolers organizing next month's march for our lives in Washington, D.C., say what the country needs is more gun control. But pollsters say it's unclear right now if they really represent the voice of Generation Z. Why? Well, pollsters generally don't count the views of those under 18. So we probably won't have national polling on that until more of them are officially adults. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Newark, Del. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.