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Polls Find Some Support for Obama's Gun Control Measures

  • VOA Staff

FILE - Chicago police display some of the thousands of illegal firearms they have confiscated in 2014 in their battle against gun violence in Chicago.

FILE - Chicago police display some of the thousands of illegal firearms they have confiscated in 2014 in their battle against gun violence in Chicago.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama plans to outline a series of executive orders aimed at curbing gun violence but not infringing upon the rights of Americans to lawfully bear arms, and recent polling data seems to offer support for some of those plans.

Some of the measures, announced by the White House Monday, include expanded background checks, more effective enforcement of gun laws, increased mental health treatment and reporting to the national background check system, and more research into gun safety technology.

Before the new year, Obama used his weekly address to push Congress to do "something -- anything -- to protect our kids from gun violence." He cited his frustration with the "unfinished business" to control the country's "epidemic of gun violence."

Each year more than 30,000 people are killed by guns in the United States, including in mass shootings and suicides, committed at far greater rates than in other countries around the world, the president said.

White House address

Obama will speak to the nation from the East Room of the White House Tuesday morning. He will also participate in a town hall discussion on gun violence Thursday night at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, that will be broadcast by CNN.

Obama's gun control announcement comes about a month after a mass shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people, and nearly two months after the Paris attacks that killed at least 130 and are considered the worst terrorist attack in Europe in 11 years.

A Pew Research Center poll last August, before the most recent mass shooting attacks, found 85 percent of Americans -- including large majorities of Democrats, 88 percent, and Republicans, 79 percent -- favored expanded background checks. Nearly 80 percent favored laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns, and 70 percent backed the creation of a federal database to track all gun sales. A smaller majority, 57 percent, supported a ban on assault-style weapons.

A CNN/ORC poll, conducted in mid-December, found 48 percent of respondents favored stricter gun control laws, while 51 percent opposed them.

One key element of Obama's plan includes requiring any business selling firearms, including at gun shows, to get a license and conduct background checks.

The Quinnipiac poll found 89 percent supported such a law.

Background checks, US database

A Gallup poll conducted in October found 86 percent favored a law requiring universal background checks for all gun purchases in the U.S. using a centralized database across all 50 states.

However, a recent Gallup poll found just 7 percent of Americans viewed guns or gun control as the most important problem in the United States. Gallup's report stated that the issue of guns has generally been rated lower against such problems as the economy and the federal government.

A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in early December found 51 percent -- broken down by parties, 23 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Independents -- think laws covering gun sales should be more strict.

Fifty-nine percent of Republicans, 19 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of Independents said the laws should be kept as they are.

According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, a slight majority, 58 percent, supports a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. And a large majority, 83 percent, supports a ban that would prevent those on the U.S. government's terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.

The October Gallup also asked how the gun issue might affect respondents' voting for major offices, and how a candidate's position on gun control would affect their voting.

Of the 855 registered voters polled, 26 percent said they would vote for a candidate only if that person shared their views on gun control, 54 percent said it would be one of many factors, and 17 percent said it would not be a major factor.

A CNN/ORC poll conducted in early December found 39 percent thought Obama "has gone too far" in changing the nation's gun laws, while 38 percent said he had not gone far enough. Twenty percent said he had done about the right amount.

Obama announced last week that he planned to consult with Attorney General Loretta Lynch about options for strengthening gun control measures.

Presidential candidates' reactions

Most of the 2016 presidential candidates weighed in on the topic, with comments breaking along party lines. Republican presidential candidates soundly criticized any such moves by the president.

Front-runner businessman Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have vowed to undo any executive orders signed by the president.

"I don’t like anything having to do with changing our Second Amendment. We have plenty of rules and regulations," Trump told CBS’s Face the Nation.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

On Monday, Cruz said the president "is once again going to abuse his power to try to seize our guns" and called the idea "illegal and unconstitutional."

On Fox News Sunday, Christie called Obama "a petulant child" who goes around Congress "whenever he can’t get what he wants."

Also appearing on Fox News Sunday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said Obama's possible use of an executive order is "completely inappropriate... His first impulse is always to take rights away from law-abiding citizens."

Senator Marco Rubio criticized Obama for "governing through decree." He said that "executive actions are designed to implement law, designed to help the implementation of law -- not to undermine the law. And he's used executive action as a way to undermine the law or write a new law."

However, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton praised Obama for taking steps she said she would also consider in the absence of congressional action.

In a statement released Sunday, Clinton said: "When I came out with my proposals for common sense gun safety measures, I did say that in the absence of Congressional action, I would use executive authority to go as far as would be possible under the law, and I applaud the president for taking a hard look at that, and I believe he will take some actions to require more gun sellers to do background checks."

Senator Bernie Sanders defended the president's plans Sunday, as well, appearing on two political talk shows to say that the president is "doing what Americans want him to do."

In the past four presidencies, George H.W. Bush enacted 155 executive orders, Bill Clinton 364, George W. Bush 291, and Obama, so far, has enacted 227.