Gun perception poll

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COLUMBIA - Does owning a gun increase safety?

One poll asked just that, and found a stark reversal in public perception since 1999.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe owning a gun increases safety, according to the latest survey from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News.

The findings come as a reversal from the same poll taken almost 20 years ago, where 52 percent of respondents said gun ownership reduces safety.

At that time 44 percent of American adults said to have owned firearms in their households. Today, the number has climbed to almost half - with 47 percent of American adults claiming to have firearms at home.

Mike O’Dell is the manager of The Black Rifle, a firearms store in Columbia. He’s been in the business 20 years and has also seen shifts in public perception.

“They see violence, they see unrest, they see a lot of different things being reported," he said. 

"I want to make sure I and my family are safe against threats like that, so we see a lot of public come in and get a conceal and carry,” O'Dell said.

Although more than half of respondents said gun ownership increases safety by allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, a majority Americans also support gun-control organizations. Forty-eight percent support gun control groups, where 32 percent opposed.

The findings found gun control organizations are among the most popular organizations or movements.

Respondents showed an overwhelming support for gay rights organizations (54 percent supported versus 21 opposed), as well as more support than opposition for movements like Black Lives Matter (46 percent support versus 31 percent oppose) and #MeToo (43 percent support versus 15 percent oppose).  

Responses showed a strong divide by party, with 89 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Independents saying gun ownership promotes safety, whereas just 28 percent of Democrats agreed.

The findings come at a time where divisiveness on gun control remains strong - specifically in the wake of the Florida high school shooting and upcoming “March for Our Lives” demonstration in Washington D.C., across the country and close to home in Columbia.

Student leader Kanchan Hans from Rock Bridge High School is organizing the march in Columbia on Saturday. She expects thousands of participants will join in walking from the columns downtown to the courthouse in solidarity against gun violence.

“We think it will send a powerful message to our lawmakers and policy makers and especially because most of us are high school students," she said. "We think that will make it even more impactful since we are the ones directly impacted by gun violence."