Most Americans back stronger gun laws: study

Updated: 2013-01-29 07:20


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WASHINGTON - The majority of Americans support tightened gun laws including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, according to a study released Monday by the Johns Hopkins University.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found 89 percent of those surveyed backed universal background checks, 69 percent supported a ban on semi-automatic weapons and 68 percent favored a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The findings suggest popular support for President Barack Obama's proposals to curb gun violence, as the administration says it wants to keep guns out of the wrong hands. The study was conducted in January during the weeks following the shooting spree in Newtown, Connecticut that killed 20 six and seven-year-olds and thrust gun control into the national spotlight.

Eighty-three percent of respondents support laws banning gun ownership by those who committed a serious crime as a juvenile and 81 percent support restrictions for those violating a domestic-violence restraining order.

Americans also support a range of measures to strengthen oversight of gun dealers and various policies restricting gun access by persons with mental illness, the study found.  

"This research indicates high support among Americans, including gun owners in many cases, for a wide range of policies aimed at reducing gun violence," said lead study author Colleen Barry, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"These data indicate broad consensus among the American public in support of a comprehensive approach to reducing the staggering toll of gun violence in the United States."

At the same time, the researchers fielded a second national survey to assess Americans' attitudes about mental illness, as calls increase to take a closer look at the nation's mental health system in a bid to halt gun violence.

Sixty-one percent of respondents favor greater spending on mental health screening and treatment as a strategy for reducing gun violence, and 58 percent said discrimination against people with mental illness is a serious problem.

Almost half of respondents thought people with serious mental illness are more dangerous than others, and two-thirds expressed unwillingness to have a person with a serious mental illness as a neighbor.  

Gun violence claims 31,000 U.S. lives each year in the U.S., and the rate of firearms homicides in America is 20 times higher than it is in other economically advanced nations, according to the study.

The survey found that 74 percent of National Rifle Association (NRA) members  the main group opposing gun bans support universal background checks for all gun sales. Sixty-four percent of NRA members support prohibiting gun ownership for those convicted of more than two drug or alcohol-fueled crimes within a three-year period, and 70 percent of NRA members want a two-year minimum sentence for those convicted of selling a gun to someone for whom gun ownership is prohibited.

Leading the charge for stricter gun laws is Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who appeared Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation, forecasting that legislation she introduced Friday would pass.

"I think I can get it passed because the American people are very much for it," she said, outlining a bill that bans 158 guns, as well as clips and magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

But appearing on the same show, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the main problem is handguns, not assault weapons. He added that Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho used pistols to slay 32 people and wound 17 others in the 2007 killing spree that shocked the nation.

The argument mirrored that of gun proponents who contend legislating against assault weapons will do little to curb gun violence and that the issue has more to do with a U.S. culture of violence and problems with the mental health system.

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