Majorities favor bans on assault weapons and clips, poll shows

story by Jonathan D. Salant
Bloomberg News

More than 6 in 10 Americans support a ban on assault rifles and high-ammunition magazines, according a poll conducted after last week’s mass shootings in Newtown, Conn.

The CNN/ORC International survey showed 62% of respondents back such restrictions, while 37% oppose both the assault-weapons ban and the prohibition on the high- ammunition clips.

Also in the poll, 95% favor background checks on all gun purchasers and 92% approve banning felons and those with mental health problems from owning weapons. Also, 15% said gun ownership should be illegal except for police and other authorized personnel, while 37% supported major restrictions on having a firearm and 33% backed minor restrictions. Opposing any restrictions were 13%.

Following the Dec. 14 shootings at an elementary school in Newtown by Adam Lanza that killed 20 children and 6 adults, 43% of respondents said they were more likely to support stricter gun-control laws. The poll found that 7% said they would be less likely to support such legislation, while 50% said their positions hadn’t changed.

The poll was released shortly after House Democrats called on Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, to allow a vote in the chamber before the end of the year on legislation to ban the high-ammunition magazines, which have been used in recent mass shootings.

A sponsor of the bill, Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado, called it “a first and reasonable step” toward addressing the problem of gun violence. Without the magazines, a shooter would have to stop and reload, making him vulnerable.

“We can probably never stop a disturbed individual completely,” said DeGette, whose congressional district includes Aurora, where 12 people died in a shooting at a movie theater in July. “But we can give those victims a fighting chance.”

Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, elected to the House in 1996 after her husband was killed and son injured in a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad, said the Connecticut murders changed the tone of the debate over gun control. A ban on assault weapons, enacted in 1994, was allowed to expire a decade later with no move to renew it.

“This time it is different and we all know it,” McCarthy said at a news conference held by House Democrats today in Washington. “That is mainly because of the victims.”

She added that the government “can protect the Second Amendment rights but we can also protect our communities,” referring to the part of the U.S. Constitution giving citizens the right to bear firearms.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Congress to vote early next year on restricting military-style weapons and high- capacity ammunition clips. He said Vice President Joe Biden would lead an effort to draft proposals to address mental health and cultural issues contributing to gun violence, in addition to offering legislation on ownership.

A House Democratic task force announced by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California also will look at issues such as mental health and violence in society in addition to gun laws. The group will be led by Representative Mike Thompson, a California Democrat and Vietnam veteran who also is a former co- chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.

For the most part, congressional Republicans have embraced examining mental health and societal issues such as violent video games, though not new restrictions on gun ownership.

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“You had an issue with someone who had documented mental health problems,” said Representative Charles Boustany Jr., a Louisiana Republican, referring to Lanza. “Approaching this from a gun-law standpoint doesn’t address these problems.”

“What we have is a violent culture separate from guns,” said Representative Tim Griffin, an Arkansas Republican.

The CNN survey taken Dec. 17-18 of 620 adults had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 %age points.

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