Bipartisan Majority Favor Background Checks for Gun Buys

Firearm-rights supporters are almost five times more likely than those who back gun-control measures to contribute money to groups advocating their views, according to a poll released yesterday. They’re about twice as likely to have contacted a public official about gun policy.

Twenty-three percent of those who say gun rights should be a priority have donated to an organization that takes a position on the policy, compared with 5 percent of those advocating gun control, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Those favoring gun rights who have contacted a public official outnumbered those who want more gun control and have done so, 15 percent to 8 percent, Pew found.

The findings help explain the success of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights advocates in fending off attempts at more restrictive gun measures. The poll was released as Vice President Joe Biden prepares to announce proposals to address gun violence. The issue has risen to the forefront after a series of mass shootings such as the Dec. 14 murders of 27 people, 20 of them children, in Newtown, Connecticut.

“The American public remains deeply divided over whether controlling gun ownership or protecting gun rights should be the higher priority, yet there are clear areas of consensus when it comes to a number of gun policy proposals,” the Washington-based research center said in its report.

The survey found that an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of Americans favor mandatory background checks for private firearm sales and those at gun shows, as well as stronger laws to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns, according to the poll.

Partisan Split

Smaller majorities, split between Democrats and Republicans, favor the creation of a federal database to track gun sales; more armed security in schools; and bans on semi-automatic firearms, assault-style weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips and the online sale of ammunition, Pew found. Firearms were responsible for 31,672 U.S. deaths in 2011, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pew’s findings on people’s political engagement showed numbers that were more comparable when it came to those who shared their opinions on social networks -- 19 percent for firearm-rights supporters and 15 percent of gun-control backers.

Background checks for private- and gun-show sales drew the strongest support of the nine policy options included in the Pew survey. Eighty-five percent of Americans, including 85 percent of Republicans and independents, as well as 87 percent of Democrats, said they’d back the measure.

Mentally Ill

Another 80 percent of people said they favor laws that would prevent mentally ill people from purchasing guns, including 86 percent of Republicans, 82 percent of independents and 78 percent of Democrats. A mentally ill person was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms in November for a Tucson shooting in January 2011 that killed six and wounded 13, including then U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

A smaller bipartisan majority favored putting more armed guards in schools in the wake of the Newtown shootings, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. In total, 64 percent liked the proposal, including 73 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats.

Bipartisan support broke down significantly on six other policy proposals listed in the Pew survey. Forty-six percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats surveyed said they favored banning high-capacity ammunition clips, such as the one used in a July 20 shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater that killed 12 people and injured 59. All told, 54 percent of people surveyed favor the limit.

Obama Limits

President Barack Obama said at a news conference yesterday that he’s received recommendations from Biden’s panel, including proposals that would a limit the number of rounds that can fit in a rifle magazine and ban assault-style weapons, such as the ones used in Aurora and Newtown.

Americans surveyed were split on the merits of banning semi-automatic weapons, with 58 percent supporting any such measure. The proposal won approval from 68 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans. A ban on assault-style weapons drew support from 55 percent of people polled, including 69 percent of Democrats and 44 percent of Republicans.

A ban on the sale of ammunition over the Internet won the smallest majority, with 53 percent supporting the potential step. The measure was backed by 61 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans.

A proposal to create a federal database to track gun sales drew the sharpest partisan divide, according to the poll results. Slightly more than two-thirds of people polled said they’d favor the measure, including 49 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats.

A measure that would give guns to more teachers was the only survey proposal not drawing a majority of support. Forty percent of people polled said the measure would be a good idea, including 56 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Democrats.

The poll of 1,502 adults was taken from Jan. 9-13. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.