The Gun Control Debate: Universal Background Checks Have Overwhelming Support

April 17, 2013, 2:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 4/13/2013) Although gun control supporters in Congress are struggling to pass additional legislation limiting gun access, the American public has made clear where it stands. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, 77% favor extending background checks to private sales and to guns purchased at gun shows. Republicans nationwide are in favor, unlike many GOP members of Congress.

81% also favor keeping guns from those with a history of mental illness, and a majority of 56% would ban magazine clips holding more than ten rounds of ammunition.

Support for background checks crosses party lines among the public. 68% of Republicans, 88% of Democrats and 73% of independents favor this. Majorities in all party groups also support limiting access to guns to those with a history of mental illness and a five-day waiting period between purchasing and receiving a handgun. But Republicans oppose limits on large magazine clips: 31% are in favor, but 52% are opposed.

There continues to be some consensus on the need for tighter gun laws: 53% of Americans think gun laws should be made stricter. About half that percentage wants no change; 12% would loosen gun laws. These percentages have remained fairly stable since the pre-Christmas shootings of first graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The National Rifle Association and its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, have been at the forefront of the opposition to new gun laws. The American public continues to be divided in its thinking about the NRA. In this week’s poll, 41% have a favorable view of the organization, while 41% are unfavorable. Three in four Republicans are favorable.

Favorable opinions of the NRA are higher among groups with higher levels of gun ownership. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to say there is a gun owner in their household, and gun ownership is lowest in the urban Northeast. The public divides on the NRA’s proposal for dealing with gun violence, too. 38% favor stationing armed guards at all schools, 41% oppose this.

The NRA’s most visible spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, receives more negative ratings. A majority of the public has no opinion of LaPierre, but those who do tend to be negative. Republicans are more positive, but most of them have no opinion of the NRA’s CEO.