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Policy/Law

Californians overwhelmingly support gun control measures

by Michelle Salzman
Ninety-two percent of California voters said they supported background checks for all gun sales, according to the latest results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. (Photo/Michael Holzworth, U.S. Department of Defense)
Ninety-two percent of California voters said they supported background checks for all gun sales, according to the latest results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. (Photo/Michael Holzworth, U.S. Department of Defense)

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., California voters strongly support a wide range of gun control measures and find it more important to protect people from gun violence than Americans’ right to own firearms by large margins, according to results of the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll of registered voters.

When asked whether they felt it was more important to protect people from gun violence than protect Americans’ right to own guns, a majority of California voters — 51 percent — said that they felt it was more important to protect people from gun violence; 46 percent agreed “strongly” with that statement. In comparison, 37 percent of voters said it was more important to protect the right to own guns, with 32 percent agreeing “strongly.”

When queried on potential ways to curb gun violence, California voters overwhelmingly said they supported background checks for all gun sales, which the state currently requires for all gun purchases. Ninety-two percent of voters were in favor of universal checks, with only 6 percent opposing.

According to the poll, other methods to alleviate gun violence that received high marks from Californians included updating the national database used for background checks by improving the reporting of mental health records (89 percent in favor, 8 percent opposed); increasing penalties for those who commit crimes with guns (87 percent in favor, 9 percent opposed); increasing penalties for those who illegally buy, sell or possess guns (85 percent in favor, 12 percent opposed); requiring ammunition buyers to provide a thumbprint and identification for background checks (79 percent in favor, 19 percent opposed); and requiring all gun owners to be registered, licensed and insured (71 percent in favor, 26 percent opposed).

About a quarter of Californians own a firearm according to the poll, which most likely accounts for the electorate’s attitude toward gun control, said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. Approximately 34 percent of American households are estimated to own guns, according to a recent General Social Survey.

“Politics is a natural outgrowth of culture,” Schnur said. “And because the percentage of Californians who own guns is so much lower than the ownership rates of guns in other parts of the country, it shouldn’t surprise us that Californians’ attitudes toward gun control are much stronger than places where people are more likely to own or maintain a firearm.”

The poll also found that a majority of Californians do not support arming teachers, administrators or janitors in schools to protect campuses against violent intruders. Sixty-six percent of California voters opposed the idea, with 31 percent in support.

In contrast, 52 percent of Californians said they support allowing school districts to spend education funds on armed security guards to protect campuses, with 43 percent opposed to the idea. Across party lines, 64 percent of registered Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Decline to State voters favored the idea.

Support for the measure was even strong across gender lines — 53 percent of women and 52 percent of men said they were in favor of arming guards — as well as between parents — 53 percent in favor — and those without children — also 53 percent in favor.

In addition, 62 percent of Californians said they were in favor of enacting a nationwide assault weapons bans, with 33 percent opposed.

“In the last several days, it’s become clear that passing an assault weapons ban in Congress will be extremely difficult,” Schnur said. “But in California, it would pass overwhelmingly. Right down the line, Californians have made it clear how strongly they support the idea of gun control.”

Three-quarters of Californians said they favored a bill that would allow surplus funds from background check fees to be used to provide the necessary funding for California authorities to seize weapons owned by convicted felons and people with serious mental illness. California authorities are currently empowered to carry out such a confiscation, but staff shortages and funding cuts have curtailed law enforcement’s abilities to do so. Fifteen percent of voters said they would oppose the bill.

When read a pair of statements describing arguments made by national leaders to reduce gun violence, Californians were evenly split between recommendations to make common-sense reforms and to enforce gun laws already on the books.

Forty-five percent of California voters said they agreed more closely with the statement “Now is the time to get serious about preventing gun violence. We need more common-sense reforms that protect people from gun violence, including universal background checks and preventing the resale of guns to criminals.” These voters said it was too easy for dangerous people to get military-style weapons designed to kill as many people as possible, putting kids and police officers at risk.

The second statement, which 46 percent of California voters agreed with more closely, stated that “California has the strictest gun laws on the books in the nation and now some are calling for even more gun control.” It continued that rather than targeting the Second Amendment and law-abiding citizens, we should enforce the gun laws already on the books and also focus on the underlying causes of violent acts, such as mental illness and violence in the media.

When queried on their impression of the National Rifle Association, 46 percent of California residents said they had an unfavorable opinion of the organization; 41 percent said favorable.

When polled on their impression of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 47 percent said they had a favorable opinion and 24 percent said unfavorable.

Optimism climbs for California’s economy

The USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll also showed that Californians are more optimistic about the state’s economy than they’ve been in previous months.

Forty-six percent of residents said they believe the California economy has already bottomed out and is starting to improve. That number is up three points from a November USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll, and 24 points higher than a July 2011 USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll.

Overall, 21 percent of California voters said they felt that the state’s economy is at the bottom, but not getting any better — a one-point difference from the November 2012 poll and 12 points lower than the July 2011 poll. Twenty-nine percent of voters in the state said they felt that the economy has not yet bottomed out and will get worse.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted on March 11-17, by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,501 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

Additional poll results and methodology are available at dornsife.usc.edu/poll

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