WASHINGTON - There is strong support from Americans for many of the proposals to curb gun violence that President Barack Obama announced Wednesday, but according to a new national poll, public support has slipped a bit when compared to surveys taken immediately after last month's mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.
A CNN/Time Magazine/ORC International poll also indicates that Americans generally favor stricter gun control and think that it is too easy to buy guns in this country, but they don't believe that stricter gun laws would reduce gun violence all by themselves.
The poll's Wednesday release comes a few hours after the president proposed background checks on all gun sales and bans on military style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as part of a package of steps to reduce gun violence in the wake last month's massacre, where a suicidal gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
According to the survey, 56% support a ban on semi-automatic guns like the AK-47, but that's down from 62% in a CNN poll taken in the days after the shooting at Sandy Hook. The same is true for a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips -- 62% in December, down to 58% now -- as well as a requirement for all gun owners to register their firearms with the local government -- 78% last month, down to 69% now.
"Those changes are likely due to the passage of time, as the initial shock of the Newtown tragedy has begun to wear off, and may indicate why the White House has put the gun issue on a fast track," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
The survey indicates Americans are evenly divided on restricting ammunition purchases, but they strongly favor background checks at all levels -- 92% want them at gun stores, 87% want them at gun shows, and 75% favor background checks even for person-to-person transactions between individuals.
Attitudes toward Obama's gun proposals vary widely in many key demographics. It's not surprising that Democrats strongly favor and Republicans strongly oppose the President's gun initiatives. But there are gender and generation gaps as well. Two-thirds of women, for example, favor a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, while a majority of men oppose such a ban. Support for that proposal is nine points higher among people over 50 years old than it is among younger Americans. Those patterns repeat on many other gun proposals.
The poll indicates that the landscape is shifting on both sides of the debate.
"Gun control supporters may feel more strongly about the issue than in past years, but the attitudes of gun owners have also shifted," adds Holland. "A majority of Americans who live in a household with a gun now say that the federal government is trying to take away their right to own a gun; in the 1990s, a plurality of people in gun households didn't see it that way."
According to the poll, personal security is also a growing issue. In the 1990s, most people in gun households said that they owned a weapon mostly for sporting purposes, with only one in five saying their guns were for protection from crime. Now, the number who say their guns are mostly for protection has grown to nearly a third of all gun households.
The survey also indicates that 55% of Americans generally favor stricter gun control laws, with 56% saying that it's currently too easy to buy guns in this country. But only 39% say that stricter gun controls would reduce gun violence all by themselves.
"That's mostly because only a quarter of Americans say that the availability of guns is the primary reason for gun violence in the country. More Americans blame gun violence on popular culture or the way parents raise their children," says Holland.
That may also be a reason why a majority of Americans (54%-45%) favor armed guards in every school in the country although that proposal does not restrict guns in any way, and why a plurality (47%-40%) say that armed guards would do more to reduce gun violence in schools than stricter gun control laws would.
The proposal on guards in schools came from the National Rifle Association, and according plurality say that they generally agree with the NRA's positions. The gun rights organization has successfully fought against the passage of gun control legislation in Congress over the past decade.
"The does not mean that Americans agree with every position the NRA takes on gun control -- polls have repeatedly and consistently shown high support for proposals the NRA opposes -- but the poll does indicate that the NRA's overall approach resonates with many Americans," adds Holland.
The poll was conducted for CNN and Time
Magazine by ORC International Monday and Tuesday (Jan. 14-15), with 814 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.