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Poll Says Gun Rights Supporters Fund Their Cause; Opponents Don’t

Rifles are displayed at a gun show in Marietta, Ga., on Dec. 22, 2012. A new poll shows overwhelming and bipartisan support for requiring criminal background checks before the sale of firearms at gun shows, as is already required before store sales.

A Pew Research Center survey on gun laws shows overwhelming support among Americans on a few issues, like closing the so-called gun show loophole; a wide partisan split on more contentious measures, like banning assault weapons; and a glimpse into why the nation's gun lobby may be so successful.

The survey results, released on the same day President Obama received recommendations from Vice President Biden and his guns task force, found near universal support for one item expected to be on Biden's list: requiring background checks before private gun sales and those at gun shows. That was supported by 85 percent of Republicans and 87 percent of Democrats.

The survey also found 80 percent of Americans across the political spectrum want to tighten laws to prevent people with mental illness from buying a gun.

"But this bipartisan consensus breaks down when it comes to other proposals," Pew noted. "Two-thirds of Americans (67%) favor creating a federal database to track gun sales, but there is a wide partisan divide between Democrats (84%) and Republicans (49%). A smaller majority of the public (55%) favors a ban on assault-style weapons; Democrats (69%) also are far more likely than Republicans (44%) to support this. Similar partisan divides exist when it comes to banning high-capacity ammunition clips or the sale of ammunition online."

The survey found that among gun owners themselves, a majority support creating a federal database to track gun sales, banning semi-automatic weapons and banning the online sale of ammunition. And nearly half support a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.

"I think it might surprise some that gun owners are not uniformly against any kind of gun control," Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center, told NPR's Audie Cornish in an interview Monday for All Things Considered. "It's not that all gun owners see guns as a black and white issue."

On the question of school safety, the poll found, 73 percent of Republicans and 62 percent of Democrats support putting more armed security personnel in schools. But while 56 percent of Republicans also support arming school teachers, only 23 percent of Democrats support that idea.

The 'Activism Gap'

The Pew survey also showed what it called a profound "activism gap" between gun-rights supporters and gun-control advocates.

The survey, conducted Jan. 9-13, found that a slim majority of Americans -- 51 percent to 45 percent -- say gun control should take precedence. But:

"There is a wide gap between those who prioritize gun rights and gun control when it comes to political involvement. Nearly a quarter (23%) of those who say gun rights should be the priority have contributed money to an organization that takes a position on gun policy, compared with just 5% of those who prioritize gun control. People who favor gun rights are also about twice as likely as gun control supporters to have contacted a public official about gun policy (15% vs. 8%)."

The National Rifle Association has annual revenue exceeding $200 million. By contrast, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the affiliated Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, perhaps the foremost groups working for stricter gun laws, had annual revenue of around $6 million in their latest filings, from 2010.

On Monday, Obama received recommendations from Biden's task force, formed after the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. At a White House news conference, Obama indicated he could send a legislative wish list to Capitol Hill this week.

Copyright 2013 National Public Radio. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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