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Schleimer JP, Pallin R, Wintemute GJ, Charbonneau A, Kravitz-Wirtz N. Patterns of Firearm Ownership and Opinions on Firearm Policies Among Adults in California. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(7):e2012096. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.12096
Few studies1 have examined variation in firearm policy opinions among firearm owners, even though these policies, which may target specific firearms or behaviors, may not affect all owners equally. In addition, the confluence of individuals’ firearm-related practices and motivations may reflect differences among owners that are unmeasured (eg, concern for safety) or unobservable (eg, culture) and that are associated with policy opinions.
With use of a state-representative survey of California adults, a previous study2 identified 5 latent classes of firearm ownership based on numbers and types of firearms owned, the primary reason for ownership, firearm storage, loaded handgun carrying behavior and motivations, and high-capacity ammunition magazine ownership. In this study, we assessed whether those patterns were associated with variation in opinions on 3 selected firearm policies.
Data for this survey study were from the 2018 California Safety and Well-being Survey administered from September 14, 2018, to October 12, 2018.3 The California Safety and Well-being Survey was approved by the University of California, Davis Institutional Review Board. Respondents received a standard informed consent page online. This study followed the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) reporting guideline.
We examined support for 3 firearm policy proposals according to previously identified2 latent classes of ownership: owners of ≥5 firearms, including handguns and long guns (class 1); owners of 1 long gun for a reason other than protection (class 2); owners of 1 handgun for protection (class 3); owners of 2 to 4 firearms, including at least 1 for protection (class 4); and owners of ≥5 firearms, including assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines (class 5) (Table 1). Classes represent otherwise unobservable subgroups. Two of the firearm proposals concerned a ban on possession of high-capacity (>10 rounds) ammunition magazines, which was approved by voters in California in 2016 but since has been challenged in federal court.4 One proposal was for an amnesty to relinquish magazines, and the other was for a buyback. The third proposal, under consideration in the 2019 to 2020 California legislative session,5 would impose a time-limited firearm prohibition on individuals with multiple recent convictions for driving under the influence (DUI). We used χ2 tests (2-sided P < .05) to examine differences in policy opinions by class. All percentages are weighted.
Of 5232 individuals invited to participate, 2558 (49%) completed the survey. Most owners (136 [31.0%; 95% CI, 24.9%-37.9%]) belonged to class 1, and the fewest (28 [8.2%; 95% CI, 4.8%-13.6%]) belonged to class 5. A total of 234 firearm owners (51.0%; 95% CI, 43.9-58.2) supported the amnesty proposal; 249 (55.1%; 95% CI, 47.8-62.2), the buyback proposal; and 248 (49.9%; 95% CI, 42.7-57.0), the DUI proposal. Support for the amnesty proposal varied significantly across classes (Table 2); it was highest among the single long gun owner (class 2; 74 [67.1%; 95% CI, 52.0%-79.3%]) and single handgun owner (class 3; 64 [62.3%; 95% CI, 48.8%-74.2%]) classes and lower among the multiple firearm owner classes. Support was lowest (8 adults; 34.3% [95% CI, 14.4%-61.9%]) and opposition highest (14 adults; 53.0% [95% CI, 27.5%-76.9%]) among individuals in class 5, the multiple firearm owner class uniquely likely to own high-capacity magazines and assault-type weapons. Support for the buyback proposal was similar to that for amnesty. Support for a DUI-based prohibition ranged from 41.2% (95% CI, 19.1%-67.5%) in class 5 to 62.4% (95% CI, 48.4%-74.6%) in class 3.
This was the first study, to our knowledge, to assess differences in firearm policy support according to patterns of firearm ownership. We observed between-class differences in support for high-capacity ammunition magazine proposals but not for a DUI-based prohibition.
Support for high-capacity magazine amnesty and buyback was lower in the multiple firearm owner classes. Opposition was highest among the class likely to own high-capacity magazines and assault-type weapons. Because opposition may influence compliance, particularly for policies in which the impetus for action resides with firearm owners, our findings provide additional context for the mixed results of past research on high-capacity magazine buyback programs.6 The small size of this class (n = 28) necessitates further research.
A previous study found1 that 41.4% of high-capacity magazine owners supported the amnesty proposal, which was greater support than observed in this study for class 5 (34.3%). This finding suggests heterogeneity among high-capacity magazine owners, not all of whom were assigned to class 5, captured in part by these latent patterns.
Limitations include potential nonresponse, recall, selection, and social desirability biases. Results from this study may be specific to California. Because of the small sample, these findings are suggestive rather than conclusive. Nevertheless, the diversity of firearm owners’ opinions in this survey study challenges the notion that firearm owners are a monolithic group. Continued research on variation among owners may advance firearm policy development and evaluation.
Accepted for Publication: May 19, 2020.
Published: July 31, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.12096
Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2020 Schleimer JP et al. JAMA Network Open.
Corresponding Author: Julia P. Schleimer, MPH, Violence Prevention Research Program, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, 2315 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, California 95817 (email@example.com).
Author Contributions: Ms Schleimer had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: All authors.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: Schleimer.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: Schleimer.
Obtained funding: Wintemute.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Pallin.
Supervision: Wintemute, Kravitz-Wirtz.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Mss Schleimer and Pallin and Drs Wintemute and Kravitz-Wirtz reported receiving other funding from the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center and the University of California, Davis, Violence Prevention Research Program and grants from the California Wellness Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Langeloth Foundation during the conduct of the study. Dr Charbonneau reported receiving grants from the Langeloth Foundation during the conduct of the study and grants from the Russell Sage Foundation outside the submitted work.
Funding/Support: This research was supported by the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center with funds from the State of California, award 2014-255 from the California Wellness Foundation , award 2017-0447 from the Heising-Simons Foundation, award 1824 (Dr Charbonneau) from the Langeloth Foundation, and the University of California, Davis, Violence Prevention Research Program.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funding organizations had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.