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Poll Finds Broad Support for Tougher Gun Laws

And NRA members endorse measures such as background checks for all gun sales

MONDAY, Jan. 28, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- A large majority of Americans, including members of the National Rifle Association, support a wide range of policies to reduce gun violence, according to a new survey.

The survey, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that 89 percent of people support background checks for all gun sales, 69 percent support a ban on the sale of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons and 68 percent support a ban on the sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

The national poll was conducted in January, several weeks after the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 young children and six adult staffers dead.

The poll also found that most Americans support prohibiting high-risk people from owning guns, including those convicted of a serious crime as a juvenile (83 percent) and those convicted of violating a domestic violence restraining order (81 percent).

There was also strong backing for many measures to strengthen oversight of gun dealers and to restrict gun access by people with mental illness, the researchers said.

Overall, the more than 2,700 respondents supported all but four of the 31 gun policies asked about in the survey, which included gun owners and non-gun owners living in homes with guns.

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

Study co-author Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said: "Not only are gun owners and non-gun-owners very much aligned in their support for proposals to strengthen U.S. gun laws, but the majority of NRA members are also in favor of many of these policies."

The survey revealed that 74 percent of NRA members support requiring universal background checks for all gun sales, 64 percent support prohibiting people who have been convicted of two or more crimes involving alcohol or drugs within a three-year period from having a gun, and 70 percent want a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for a person convicted of knowingly selling a gun to someone who is not legally allowed to own one.

"These data indicate that the majority of Americans are in favor of policy changes that would ultimately increase safety," study co-author Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, said in the news release. "This consensus should propel forward comprehensive legislation aimed at saving lives."

The researchers also conducted another national survey of more than 1,500 people to assess attitudes about mental illness, and found ambivalent attitudes. Sixty-one percent of respondents favored greater spending on mental-health screening and treatment as a way to reduce gun violence, and 58 percent said discrimination against people with serious mental illness was a major problem.

Half the respondents, however, thought people with serious mental illness are more dangerous than others, and two-thirds said they would be unwilling to have a person with a serious mental illness as a neighbor.

"In light of our findings about Americans' attitudes toward persons with mental illness, it is worth thinking carefully about how to implement effective gun-violence-prevention measures without exacerbating stigma or discouraging people from seeking treatment," Barry said.

The findings from both surveys were published online Jan. 28 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Gun violence claims 31,000 lives in the United States each year, and the rate of gun-related murders in the country is 20 times higher than in other wealthy nations, the researchers said.

More information

The American College of Emergency Physicians discusses gun-related injuries and deaths (http://www.emergencycareforyou.org/YourHealth/InjuryPrevention/Default.aspx?id=26082 ).

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University, news release, Jan. 29, 2013