Poll: 92 percent of gun owners support universal background checks

Ninety-two percent of voters, including 92 percent of gun owners and 86 percent of Republicans, support background checks prior to all gun sales, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

The results indicate that, while the proposed shift to universal background checks has stirred intense partisan bickering inside the Beltway, it's not nearly as controversial throughout the rest of the country.

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Supporters of tougher gun laws were quick to highlight the results, calling on House Republican leaders to take up legislation expanding background screenings to all commercial gun sales.

Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.), a gun owner who heads the House Democratic task force on gun violence, urged GOP leaders to consider his bill to do just that.

"The only thing standing in the way of it passing is the Republican Majority in the House," Thompson said in a statement. "It's time they listen to the 92 percent of American gun owners who support background checks and bring our bill up for a vote — because if the Republican Majority would allow a vote, my bill would pass."

He shouldn't hold his breath. 

Although there was a strong push to expand background checks in the immediate wake of the December 2012 shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn., a bipartisan bill brought to the Senate floor several months later was shot down, falling four votes shy of defeating a Republican filibuster.

Following that Senate vote, House GOP leaders have shown little interest in considering similar legislation in the lower chamber, where Thompson's bill — co-sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) — has idled for more than a year.

The Quinnipiac poll suggests Republican leaders are at stark odds with the public on the issue. It found that voters support universal background checks by a margin of 92 to 7 percent; gun owners support the change 92 to 6 percent; and Republicans back the idea 86 to 11 percent.

The survey also suggested a reason for the disconnect between the public support and the congressional inactivity. In short, many voters simply don't equate mandatory background checks with "gun control." Indeed, only 50 percent of the same respondents said they support "stricter gun control laws," the poll found, with 47 percent opposed.

"Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill," Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, said in a statement. "But when it comes to 'stricter gun control,' three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say 'hands off.'" 

Under current law, licensed gun dealers are required to do background checks to ensure buyers are legally eligible to purchase firearms. Felons, illegal immigrants, habitual drug abusers and the severely mentally ill are among those banned from buying or owning guns. 

The screenings are not required of unlicensed vendors, however, who may sell their wares without a background check unless they "know" or have "reason to believe" the buyer fits one of the prohibited categories.

The Thompson/King bill would expand mandatory checks to accompany more private gun sales, like those conducted at gun shows and over the internet.

The National Rifle Association, which supported an expansion of background checks following the 1999 massacre in Columbine, has since reversed course to oppose any such change.

The group says the expansion would "criminaliz[e] private firearms transfers between law-abiding individuals."