Criminal background checks on gun sales garner highest level of support
PRINCETON, NJ -- Given the chance to vote "for" or "against" each of nine key proposals included in President Barack Obama's plan to reduce gun violence, Americans back all nine. Americans are most likely to be in favor of requiring background checks for all gun sales (91%), increasing funding for mental health programs aimed at youth (82%), increasing funding for programs to train law enforcement and schools in responding to active armed attacks (79%), and increasing criminal penalties for people who buy guns for others -- so-called straw purchasers (75%).
These results are from a Gallup survey conducted Jan. 19-20. The question does not tell respondents that all nine proposals come from Obama's recently released plan to reduce gun violence; however, the wordings used to describe them intentionally follow the White House's "Now Is the Time" plan descriptions.
Notably, Gallup asked a question last week that gauged Americans' immediate reaction to Obama's proposed plan as a package, and found a slim majority, 53%, saying they would like their member of Congress to support it.
Obama's plan covers four major aspects of gun violence prevention -- gun laws, criminal justice, school security, and mental health funding -- and each of these is represented in the top four rated proposals.
Gun and Ammunition Bans Elicit Lowest, but Still Majority, Support
The two least-broadly supported proposals, but ones majorities of Americans still favor, are reinstating and strengthening the 1994-2004 ban on assault weapons (60%), and limiting the sale of ammunition magazines to those with 10 rounds or less (54%).
The 60% saying they would vote "for" the assault weapons proposal is higher than the 44% support Gallup found with a similar measure in December that described assault weapons as "semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles." Also, the current wording reminds respondents that this would be a renewal of a law that existed previously.
At the same time, the 54% currently voting for limiting gun magazines to no more than 10 rounds is less than the 62% Gallup found in December when describing this as banning "the sale and possession of high-capacity ammunition clips that can contain more than 10 bullets." Thus, it appears that attitudes are somewhat variable on these gun control issues, depending on nuances in how the proposals are described.
The three other specific policies tested in the new poll that garner somewhat lower -- although still majority -- support are federal funding for 15,000 street police officers (70%), federal funding for helping schools develop emergency response plans (69%), and banning the possession of armor-piercing bullets by civilians (67%).
Most Proposals Have Bipartisan Support
Although Democrats show more support than Republicans for each proposal, majorities of both partisan groups favor seven of the nine proposals. That includes nearly universal support among Republicans and Democrats for requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales. A majority of Republicans also favor a ban on armor-piercing bullets and increasing penalties for straw purchasers, as well as the various school security, police funding, and mental health funding proposals tested.
The two proposals favored by majorities of Democrats, but not Republicans, relate to enacting bans on the sale of guns or ammunition.
Gun Laws Not Necessarily the Priority
Now that President Obama has outlined his plan for preventing gun violence, Congress must decide what to take up, and when. There is a good chance his proposals will be considered separately, rather than as a package, raising the question of what Americans would prioritize. All of this, it must be said, is colored by last month's horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Certain types of gun control policies enjoy broad public support, but so do proposals aimed at treating youth with mental health problems before they can become a danger to society, and increasing school security measures. Gallup asked Americans in a separate question whether, in order to prevent future school shootings, the president and Congress should focus more on gun control or more on school security and mental health. Two-thirds choose the latter.
New Gallup polling testing public support for nine of Obama's specific proposals for preventing gun violence -- without invoking Obama's name in the question -- shows a majority of Americans backing all of them, ranging from 54% support for banning high-capacity magazines to 91% for requiring criminal background checks for all gun purchases. This can be contrasted with Gallup's earlier finding that 53% of Americans want to see Congress pass Obama's anti-gun violence package as a whole -- a question explicitly associating the plan with the president.
If Congress is looking to public opinion for what to pass first, the poll indicates background checks, stiffer penalties on straw purchasers, bans on armor-piercing bullets, and more funding for police, school security, and mental health programs would face little public resistance. On the other hand, other gun control measures, such as bans on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, might not only be difficult to get through Congress, but hard to sell to Republicans and independents. At the very least, Congress needs to make sure that any action taken on guns is seen as supplemental to meaningful school security and mental health policy reforms, not a substitute for it.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 19-20, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,013 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cell phone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phones numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.