The Hill Poll: Voters see gun laws as too lax, expect tightening

A clear plurality of voters believe the nation’s gun laws are too lax and they expect President Obama and Congress to tighten them, according to a new poll for The Hill.

At the same time, however, voters tend to believe that stricter gun laws will not significantly reduce deaths from gun violence in the United States.

Those opinions reflect the complexity of an issue that has been center-stage politically since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month in which 20 children and eight adults, including the killer, died.

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Vice President Biden is leading a White House working group examining how to lower rates of gun violence. Biden is expected to deliver his recommendations to Obama this week.

As a senator, Biden was a driving force behind the 1994 bill that banned many assault weapons, but it appears unlikely that he or Obama will push for such a broad-ranging measure this year.  Instead, the administration may focus on expanding obligatory background checks for gun-buyers and perhaps banning high-capacity magazines. 

In The Hill Poll, 49 percent of voters asserted that current gun laws are too lax, against 35 percent who said they were about right. The gun laws were judged to be too strict by 11 percent of voters.

A striking consensus was evident around the belief that Obama and Congress would come together to make the current laws pertaining to firearms more rigorous. 

Asked to set aside their personal opinions about the desirability of such a change, a full 64 percent of voters asserted that action was very likely or somewhat likely. Only 26 percent said that it was not very likely or not likely at all.

The number of voters who thought that such a move was likely was broadly similar among Republicans and Democrats: 63 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

There were much sharper partisan divides on other questions. Three-quarters of Democratic voters asserted that the current gun laws were too lax, yet that opinion was shared by only 24 percent of Republicans. Conversely, 53 percent of Republicans argued that the current state of the gun laws was “about right”, a position that was endorsed by only 17 percent of Democrats.

Democrats were also far more likely to believe that tightening gun laws was likely to deliver a direct dividend, in terms of reducing the number of deaths from gun violence. Two-thirds of Democrats, 66 percent, asserted that this would be the case, whereas only 15 percent of Republicans agreed. 

Gun-rights advocates have long insisted that making regulations stricter is likely to restrict law-abiding citizens’ access to firearms, while those with criminal intent might acquire weapons by illicit means.

Asked directly about the mass shooting in Connecticut, 47 percent of voters said that it had made them more supportive of tighter gun controls while 32 percent said that it had not altered their views. 

Almost one-in-five voters — 19 percent — said that the events in Connecticut had made them less supportive of stricter gun laws. In the wake of the tragedy, representatives of the National Rifle Association (NRA) suggested that giving teachers permission to carry firearms might help prevent future atrocities.

Last week, the NRA was among several groups that met with Biden at the White House. Afterward, the group released a statement accusing the Obama administration of having “an agenda to attack the Second Amendment.”

Gun-rights groups had been put on edge earlier last week by Biden’s assertion that “executive orders, executive action, can be taken” on the gun issue.

The Hill Poll found more voters opposed to such an action than supportive of it, by 49 percent to 42 percent. 

Here, again, the partisan split was deep. Seventy-one percent of Democrats would support executive action to make the laws tighter, but 82 percent of Republicans would oppose it.

The Hill Poll was conducted among 1,000 likely voters on January 10 by Pulse Opinion Research. The margin of error is three percentage points.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.