A solid majority of the U.S. public, 73%, believes the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the rights of Americans to own guns. Twenty percent believe the amendment only guarantees the rights of state militia members to own guns.
The Supreme Court will soon weigh in on this issue, after recently hearing the arguments in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the Washington, D.C., ban on handgun ownership by city residents is facing a Second Amendment challenge.
The precise language of the Second Amendment reads:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
The often fierce debate over the Second Amendment has centered on whether it was intended to protect the rights of all Americans to own guns, or only those who are members of state militia groups.
The poll makes it clear which side Americans come down on. Gun owners (roughly one-third of the U.S. adult population) are nearly universal in endorsing the view that the Second Amendment guarantees their right to own guns. Non-owners are less likely to view the amendment this way, but a majority still do.
While the American public backs the view that gun ownership is a constitutional right, Americans favor having legal restrictions on it. In the same poll, 49% favor stricter gun laws than exist now and 38% would like to see gun laws remain as they are. Just 11% advocate gun laws that are less strict.
The practical outcome of the case will be whether the Washington, D.C., handgun ban will be allowed to stand. In general, the public opposes sweeping bans on handguns. In the most recent Gallup Crime Poll, conducted last October, Americans opposed a law that would ban possession of handguns except by police and other authorized persons by 68% to 30%.