Amer­i­cans don’t ex­pect Congress to act on guns

Poll finds vot­ers sup­port tighter con­trols, doubt they’ll pass

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Mau­reen Groppe, Matt Wynn and Ja­son Lall­jee

WASHINGTON – Amer­i­cans doubt Congress will en­act new gun laws de­spite a spate of mass shoot­ings this sum­mer that rat­tled the country.

As law­mak­ers re­turn to Washington, a na­tion­wide USA TO­DAY/ Suffolk Univer­sity Poll found that less than a quar­ter of Amer­i­cans think Congress will pass sig­nificant gun con­trol leg­is­la­tion over the next year.

That’s de­spite the fact that the poll also found broad sup­port for fur­ther con­trols over who can get a gun.

“Fi­nally, a poll re­sult that shows una­nim­ity in the United States,” David Pa­le­ol­o­gos, di­rec­tor of the Suffolk Univer­sity Political Re­search Cen­ter in Bos­ton, said of the wide­spread sup­port for

uni­ver­sal back­ground checks across ev­ery de­mo­graphic in­clud­ing ge­og­ra­phy, gen­der, age, race and party affili­a­tion.

“If there ever was a time for law­mak­ers from both par­ties to act, it is now.”

The USA TO­DAY/ Suffolk Poll of 1,000 reg­is­tered vot­ers by land­line and cell­phone Aug. 20- 25 has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus 3 per­cent­age points.

It was con­ducted be­fore the Aug. 31 shoot­ing in Odessa, Texas, which prompted re­newed calls from Democrats for the Se­nate to take up the bill for ex­panded back­ground checks the House passed in Fe­bru­ary.

But a USA TO­DAY Net­work sur­vey of all mem­bers of Congress in Au­gust found few Repub­li­cans will­ing to pub­licly back specific pro­pos­als on back­ground checks or “red flag” laws, an­other pro­posal that was sup­ported by a ma­jor­ity of Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can vot­ers alike in the poll.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell re­it­er­ated last week that he will bring to the floor only leg­is­la­tion that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has en­dorsed.

“If the pres­i­dent is in fa­vor of a num­ber of things that he has dis­cussed openly and pub­licly, and I know that if we pass it it’ll be­come law, I’ll put it on the floor,” the Kentucky Repub­li­can told con­ser­va­tive ra­dio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

Mixed mes­sages from Trump

Since the Au­gust shoot­ings, Trump has flipped be­tween sup­port­ing en­hanced back­ground checks and warning of a “slip­pery slope” on gun con­trol that could lead to in­fringe­ments on gun own­ers’ rights.

“If you look at back­ground checks and if you look at some of – even the more se­vere and com­pre­hen­sive ideas that are be­ing put for­ward – it wouldn’t have stopped any of the last few years’ worth of these mass shoot­ings, which is a prob­lem,” Trump said last week.

The USA TO­DAY/ Suffolk Poll may shed light on why Repub­li­cans are not ea­ger to get out front on the ques­tion.

Fewer than 4 in 10 Repub­li­can vot­ers said they could vote for a can­di­date who dis­agreed with them on gun is­sues. That com­pares with just over half of Democrats and in­de­pen­dents sur­veyed who said they could back a can­di­date with differ­ent views on gun con­trol if they agreed with them on other poli­cies.

And while two- thirds of Democrats sur­veyed thought shoot­ings would in­crease over the next year, less than 40% of Repub­li­cans did.

Lanae Erick­son, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of Third Way, a cen­ter- left group that backs bi­par­ti­san gun con­trol, calls sup­port among Repub­li­cans for uni­ver­sal back­ground checks “wide but not deep.”

“It’s not a ma­jor pri­or­ity for al­most any Repub­li­can voter who sup­ports it, and the mi­nor­ity who op­pose it vi­ciously hate the idea,” she said. “That’s a strong in­cen­tive not to go out on a limb here, at least for the bulk of Repub­li­cans who can win with just their base.”

House bill on back­ground checks

The bill that passed the House in Fe­bru­ary with back­ing from eight Repub­li­cans would re­quire back­ground checks for all firearms sales and most trans­fers, in­clud­ing those at gun shows, on­line or in other pri­vate set­tings.

The gun­man who killed seven peo­ple in a ram­page along a west Texas high­way Aug. 31, who had failed a fed­eral back­ground check in 2014, got his ARstyle rifle through a pri­vate sale, ac­cord­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“The Se­nate must vote on the House bill next week – not a di­luted bill, not a bill on other mat­ters,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D- N. Y., said last week.

Nine out of 10 of reg­is­tered vot­ers sur­veyed in the USA TO­DAY/ Suffolk Poll said they sup­port re­quir­ing back­ground checks for all firearm sales.

“All I can say is, I would like every­one who has a gun to have gone through a back­ground check,” said Dianne Gris­wold, a re­tired teacher from Michi­gan.

Most Demo­cratic mem­bers of Congress told the USA TO­DAY Net­work they sup­port re­quir­ing back­ground checks for all firearm sales, as well as fed­eral in­cen­tives for states to pass “red flag” laws that al­low courts to tem­po­rar­ily take firearms away from peo­ple sus­pected of be­ing a dan­ger to the pub­lic or to them­selves. They also backed bans on the sale of some semi- au­to­matic as­sault- style weapons and ban­ning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion.

Most Repub­li­can law­mak­ers de­clined to re­spond di­rectly – or at all – when asked to give a yes or no an­swer to whether they sup­port each of those mea­sures.

That was true even for some Repub­li­cans, like In­di­ana Sen. Mike Braun, who has ex­pressed an open­ness to some of the pro­pos­als.

But Braun did not want to be recorded as sup­port­ing or op­pos­ing re­quir­ing back­ground checks for all firearm sales. He also de­clined to di­rectly say if he sup­ports fed­eral in­cen­tives for red flag laws.

In­stead, he offered the gen­eral state­ment that “watch­ing Congress do noth­ing is un­ac­cept­able” and “any bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion needs to in­clude stronger back­ground checks, red flag laws” and com­mon­sense so­lu­tions.

Be­cause of such state­ments, Braun has been tar­geted by the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Gun Rights, which has warned its In­di­ana sup­port­ers that Braun is “run­ning around In­di­ana – offer­ing his sup­port for dan­ger­ous ` Red Flag’ Gun Confisca­tion” and “wants to ex­pand the Uni­ver­sal Brady Gun Reg­is­tra­tion Scheme!”

What about semi- au­to­mat­ics?

Still, 85% of Repub­li­can vot­ers said they sup­port re­quir­ing back­ground checks for all firearm sales. About half ( 52%) also said they sup­port fed­eral in­cen­tives for states to pass “red flag” laws – an idea backed by 69% of all poll re­spon­dents.

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is sched­uled to vote this week on leg­is­la­tion that would give fed­eral money to states that pass red flag laws and on whether to ban high- ca­pac­ity am­mu­ni­tion magazines. Law­mak­ers have sched­uled a hear­ing for later in Septem­ber on pro­pos­als to stop sales of some mil­i­tary- style as­sault weapons.

Bans on some semi- au­to­matic weapons and on high- ca­pac­ity magazines were sup­ported by about six out of 10 sur­vey re­spon­dents, in­clud­ing by a ma­jor­ity of Demo­cratic and in­de­pen­dent vot­ers.

“I don’t think that they should have the magazines. I don’t think they should have the as­sault rifles,” said Tomi Michaud, 50, a Demo­crat from Illi­nois.

But both of those pro­pos­als were backed by less than 40% of Repub­li­can vot­ers.

“Per­son­ally, I think you should be able to own a Sherman tank if you want one,” said Steve Harold, 63, a me­chanic from Illi­nois.

Only two Repub­li­can law­mak­ers told the USA TO­DAY Net­work they sup­port bans on both high- ca­pac­ity magazines and some semi- au­to­matic weapons: Rep. Chris Smith of New Jer­sey and Rep. Peter King of New York.

“I voted in fa­vor of the 1994 as­sault weapons ban and be­lieve an as­sault weapons ban should be re­in­stated,” Smith said.

The more com­mon re­sponse from Repub­li­can law­mak­ers was to fo­cus not on the weapons used in the mass shoot­ings but on the per­son pulling the trig­ger.

“The right ap­proach to pre­vent­ing mass shoot­ings is not re­strict­ing the con­sti­tu­tional rights of law- abid­ing cit­i­zens,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told USA TO­DAY. “The right ap­proach is to come down on crim­i­nals like a ton of bricks and pre­vent guns from fall­ing into the wrong hands.”

While 54% of Demo­cratic vot­ers sur­veyed said the re­cent mass shoot­ings have made them more likely to sup­port gun con­trol mea­sures, half of Repub­li­cans and in­de­pen­dents in the USA TO­DAY/ Suffolk Univer­sity Poll said the shoot­ings haven’t affected their views. And 23% of Repub­li­cans said the shoot­ings have made them more likely to sup­port gun own­ers’ rights.

Per­haps reflect­ing that view, Rep. Ralph Abra­ham, R- La., said he hasn’t seen any pro­pos­als that would have pre­vented any of the shoot­ings.

“I’m not in fa­vor of do­ing some­thing just to do some­thing,” Abra­ham said, “and the Sec­ond Amend­ment is self- ex­plana­tory.”


Gun con­trol ad­vo­cates demon­strate out­side the NRA’s head­quar­ters in Fair­fax, Va.

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