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Support for tighter US gun laws ticks up

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WASHINGTON After a steady string of mass shootings and a revival of the political fight over gun control, Americans are slightly more likely than they were two years ago to say gun laws should be made stricter, a new Associated Press-GfK poll found.

Despite the uptick in favour of tighter gun laws, Americans remain deeply divided along party, gender and geographic lines on an issue that has ricocheted into the presidential campaign. Eight in 10 Democrats favour stricter gun laws, while 6 in 10 Republicans want them left as they are or loosened.

Still, the results show the calls for tighter laws have some bipartisan appeal, with 37 per cent of Republicans, including 31 per cent of conservative Republicans, favouring stricter gun laws.

The new poll was taken two weeks after the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, thrust the discussion of gun control into the country’s attention and the presidential campaign. Polls regularly find a rise in support for tighter gun laws after such shootings ‚Äî although that support often levels off as the headlines fade.

In December 2013, one year after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, 52 per cent of Americans said gun laws should be made tighter. That number was 58 per cent in the new poll, while 27 per cent said they think laws should be left as they are and 12 per centfavoured making gun laws less strict.

Over a third of Americans said gun laws should be made much stricter, up from 29 per cent who said so in the 2013 poll.

And they were slightly less inclined to see laws limiting gun ownership as an infringement on the constitutional right to bear arms. Forty-five per cent saw such laws as an infringement; 51 per cent did not. In the 2013 poll, 50 per cent said gun laws infringe on the right to bear arms and 47 per cent said they did not.

Gun control has become one of the top issues in the Democratic presidential primary, as front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has promised to take executive action to expand background checks and accused Republicans of bowing to the powerful gun lobby. President Barack Obama has said he plans to use his bully pulpit to press lawmakers to pass tougher laws, although there’s little sign of momentum in the Republican-led Congress.

The poll finds Democratic politicians are in line with their party’s loyalists. Democrats are more likely than Republicans ‚Äî 69 per cent to 55 per cent ‚Äî to say gun laws are very or extremely important to them.

“The idea of being able to have a concealed weapon on a college campus is frightening to me, absolutely frightening to me,” said Mary Robins, a retired career counsellor in Menlo Park, California, who said she favoured a ban on assault-type weapons and restricting access to large capacity magazines.

Robins was among the 66 per cent of women who said gun laws should be made stricter, compared with 50 per cent of men. Women also were more likely to give the issue high priority.

“I think we need to enforce the ones we have and prosecutors and judges should be getting tougher,” said Harry Masse, a 59-year-old police chief in Metropolis, Illinois.

City and suburban dwellers are more likely to back tighter laws than rural Americans.

Obama received notably tough marks on the issue, even from some in his own party. The president made a push for a tighter gun laws in 2013, but failed to persuade Congress. He then issued several executive actions, but until recently has sidelined the issue. Six in 10 Americans disapprove of his handling of the issue, the new poll finds, including 35 per cent of Democrats.

“I don’t think he’s done enough,” said Ryan Dupont, a college professor from Smithfield, Utah. He said he understands Obama must work with “less-than-ideal” people in Congress but “I think that issue needs to be moved more aggressively.”

Unchanged since 2013 is the share of Americans living in a household where at least one person owns a gun — about one-third. About half of Republicans live in households with a gun, compared with less than a third of Democrats or independents.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online Oct. 15 to Oct. 19, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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