A majority of Americans support stricter gun laws in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, but most oppose banning assault weapons, a move backed by President Obama as a step to curb gun violence, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans say they favor stricter gun laws, up from 43% in October 2011. The American public, which favored enforcing existing gun laws over passing new ones by 60%-35% in 2011, now is split on the issue, with 46% favoring enforcing current laws and 47% favoring passing new ones.
In terms of specific laws, the ban on assault weapons hasn't gained any significant support, according to the poll. Forty-four percent support such a move, and 51% are against it. In 2011, 43% supported an assault weapons ban, and 53% said they were against it.
National Rifle Association President David Keene wasn't surprised by the uptick in support of strict gun laws generally and argued that when it comes to specific legislation -- such as the proposed assault weapons ban -- Americans are more circumspect.
"I'm surprised it hasn't gone up more considering the unremitting attacks on firearms over the last week," Keene said. His powerful gun rights organization has been criticized since police said Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother Dec. 14 before driving to an elementary school where he killed 26 schoolchildren and staff, then shot himself.
Obama has convened a task force to come up with proposals to help curb gun violence. Respondents to the poll back two proposals endorsed by Obama: 62% favor bans on high-capacity magazines, which can carry as many as 30 rounds of ammunition, and 92% support background checks at gun shows.
Congress instituted a ban on assault weapons in 1994, but the law expired in 2004. The NRA has flatly rejected reinstating the assault weapon ban or introducing tougher gun laws in response to the Newtown incident. Instead, the group wants the federal government to place armed guards in every school.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, isn't writing off the assault weapons ban. "That's an example of where the gun lobby's narrative has taken root and needs to be overcome," he said.
The poll found 54% have a favorable opinion of the NRA, down 6 points from 2005, but generally in line with polls done from 1993-2000.
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