Poll: Californians Support Tighter Gun Control

SAN JOSE, Calif. (San Jose Mercury News/TNS) -

With the country immersed in yet another heated debate over guns, a new poll finds Californians favor stricter gun control measures in their state — even though the Golden State already boasts some of the toughest firearm regulations in the country.

A vast majority of California voters — including most Republicans — support proposals that would require background checks to buy ammunition and prevent people on the government’s “no-fly” list from buying guns, the new Field Poll shows.

The poll found that 57 percent of California voters believe it’s more important to impose greater controls on gun ownership than it is to protect the rights of Americans to own guns; only 38 percent hold the opposite opinion. That’s “not on par with what you’re seeing nationwide, which is about an even split,” said Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. An ABC News/Washington Post national poll in October found that 47 percent see protecting gun ownership rights as a higher priority, while 46 percent said enacting new laws to try to reduce gun violence is more important.

Congress has yet to see a bill demanding background checks as a prerequisite for buying ammunition, but Republicans have refused to allow votes on bills requiring universal background checks for firearms purchases — something California did long ago — and barring firearm purchases by those on the “no-fly” list.

But in an unusual bipartisan show of support, California voters are showing even greater enthusiasm than they did three years ago for one of the major proposals in a ballot measure for which Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and his allies are collecting petition signatures.

A whopping 80 percent of California voters favor requiring background checks for ammunition purchases, up 5 percentage points from when the Field Poll asked the question in February 2013. And 75 percent favor the “no-fly” list ban touted by Obama and congressional Democrats but opposed by many civil libertarians who say it would violate constitutional due-process rights.

“Usually on things like gun control … you expect to see big partisan differences, but on those two, we didn’t,” DiCamillo noted.

While the same proportion of Democratic voters (90 percent) now support requiring background checks for ammunition purchases as did in February 2013, support among independent voters has jumped from 77 percent then to 88 percent now, and support among Republicans has jumped from 53 percent to 58 percent.

David Dwonch, an independent voter from the San Francisco Bay Area city of Brentwood who told the poll he prioritizes gun control for public safety over gun owners’ rights, said he has felt this way all along: “I would much rather control the source of something that could cause a problem than rely on the judgment of civilians,” said Dwonch, 42. He said he favors background checks for ammunition purchases even though he knows people could still buy ammunition illegally or make their own. “Anything that slows the process down, I’m all for,” he said.

Majorities of California voters also back two other gun-control proposals, though with far more support among Democrats and independent voters than among Republicans. In all, 58 percent of voters support outlawing possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds — also part of Newsom’s measure — and 56 percent support expanding the state’s assault weapons law to include all semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, an idea Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed in 2013.

More Californians believe tougher laws on firearm sales and possession are effective in reducing violent crime (55 percent) than those who believe such laws aren’t effective (44 percent); again, those views sharply divide voters along party lines, according to the Field Poll, which surveyed 1,003 registered voters between Dec. 15 and Jan. 3, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. Some of the gun questions were asked only of a random subsample of 553 voters, with a 4.4-point margin of error.

The poll numbers “reinforce that the public is way ahead of elected officials” in its desire for action, Newsom said Monday. “The ammunition numbers were the highest I’ve seen, that’s overwhelming … and that is arguably the most significant component of our initiative, so that’s a very positive result.”

Opponents believe the details may wreak havoc when the initiative, with all of its fine print, is finally put to voters, Firearms Policy Coalition spokesman Craig DeLuz said Monday. For example, those who support a background check for ammunition purchases might not support making a buyer wait 30 days to get a purchase permit or support criminal punishment for parents who give ammunition to their kids at the firing range.

DeLuz said, ultimately, as long as the courts keep upholding gun owners’ rights, none of the polls matter. “The right to keep and bear arms is not up for popular debate,” he said. “It’s a constitutionally enumerated civil right.”