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Californians Overwhelmingly Support Gun Control Measures

Contact: Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu or (213) 740-0252; Michelle Salzman at msalzman@dornsife.usc.edu or (213) 821-9311

A press call discussing these results and additional results on public education funding and immigration policy is MONDAY, March 25 at 11:00 a.m. PT. Call-in spots are limited. Call-in number: (800) 230-1085.

March 22, 2013 — In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., California voters support a wide range of gun control measures and find it more important to protect people from gun violence than to protect American’s right to own firearms by large margins, according to results of the largest statewide poll of registered voters.

When asked whether they felt it is more important to protect people from gun violence than protect American’s right to own guns, a majority of California voters —51 percent —said that they felt it is more important to protect people from gun violence; 46 percent agreed “strongly” with that statement. In comparison, 37 percent of voters said it is more important to protect the right to own guns, with 32 percent agreeing “strongly.”

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from March 11-17, 2013, by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,501 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

When queried on potential ways to curb gun violence, California voters overwhelmingly support background checks for all gun sales, which the state currently requires for all gun purchases. Ninety-two percent of voters favor universal checks, with 6 percent opposing.

Other methods to alleviate gun violence that get high marks from Californians, according the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times Poll, include updating the national database used for background checks by improving the reporting of mental health records (89 percent in favor, 8 percent oppose); increasing penalties for those who commit crimes with guns (87 percent in favor, 9 percent oppose); increasing penalties for those who illegally buy, sell or possess guns (85 percent in favor, 12 percent oppose); requiring ammunition buyers to provide a thumbprint and ID for background checks (79 percent in favor, 19 percent oppose); and requiring all gun owners to be registered, licensed and insured (71 percent in favor, 26 percent oppose).

About a quarter of Californians own a firearm according to the poll, which most likely accounts for the electorate’s attitude toward gun control, said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times Poll and the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. Approximately 34 percent of American households are estimated to own guns, according to a recent General Social Survey.

“Politics is a natural outgrowth of culture,” Schnur said. “And because the percentage of Californians who own guns is so much lower than the ownership rates of guns in other parts of the country, it shouldn’t surprise us that Californian’s attitudes toward gun control are much stronger than places where people are more likely to own or maintain a firearm.”

However, a majority of Californians do not support arming teachers, administrators or janitors in schools to protect campuses against violent intruders. Sixty-six percent of California voters oppose the idea, with 31 percent in support.

In contrast, 52 percent of Californians support allowing school districts to spend education funds on armed security guards to protect campuses, with 43 percent opposed to the idea. Across party lines, 64 percent of registered Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Decline to State voters favor the idea. Support for the measure is even across gender lines — 53 percent of women and 52 percent of men are in favor of arming guards — as well as between parents (53 percent in favor) and those without children (also 53 percent in favor).

Additionally, 62 percent of Californians favor enacting a nationwide assault weapons bans, with 33 percent opposed.

“In the last several days, it's become clear that passing an assault weapons ban in Congress will be extremely difficult. But in California, it would pass overwhelmingly. Right down the line, Californians have made it clear how strongly they support the idea of gun control,” Schnur said.

Further, three-quarters of Californians favor a bill that would use surplus funds from background check fees to provide the necessary funding for California authorities to seize weapons owned by convicted felons and people with serious mental illness. California authorities are currently empowered to carry out such a confiscation, but staff shortages and funding cuts have curtailed law enforcement’s abilities to do so. Fifteen percent of voters said they would oppose the bill.

When read a pair of statements describing arguments made by national leaders to reduce gun violence, Californians were evenly split between recommendations to make common-sense reforms and to enforce gun laws already on the books.

Forty-five percent of California voters said that they agreed more closely with the statement “now is the time to get serious about preventing gun violence,” and that it is too easy to for dangerous people to get military-style weapons designed to kill as many people as possible, putting our kids and police officers at risk.

The statement continued, “We need more common-sense reforms that protect people from gun violence, including universal background checks and preventing the resale of guns to criminals.”

The second statement, which 46 percent of California voters agreed with more closely, stated that “California has the strictest gun laws on the books in the nation and now some are calling for even more gun control.” It continued that rather than targeting the Second Amendment and law-abiding citizens, we should enforce the gun laws already on the books and also focus on the underlying causes of violent acts, such as mental illness and violence in the media.

When queried on their impression of the National Rifle Association, 46 percent of California residents said they had an unfavorable opinion of the organization; 41 percent said favorable.

When polled on their impression of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 47 percent said they had a favorable opinion, and 24 percent said unfavorable.

OPTIMISTISM CLIMBS FOR STATE OF CALIFORNIA’S ECONOMY

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll also showed that Californians are more optimistic about the state’s economy than in previous months.

Forty-six percent of residents said that they believe the California economy has already bottomed out and is starting to improve. That number is up 3 points from a November 2012 USC Dornsife/L.A. Times Poll, and 24 points higher than a July 2011 USC Dornsife/L.A. Times Poll.

Overall, 21 percent of California voters feel the state’s economy is at the bottom, but not getting any better — a one-point difference from the November 2012 poll and 12 points lower than the July 2011 poll.  Twenty-nine percent of voters in the state feel that the economy has not yet bottomed out and will get worse.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from March 11-17, 2013, by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample of 1,501 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

Additional poll results and methodology are available here.

FOR MEDIA: A press call discussing these results and additional poll results on immigration policy and public education funding is MONDAY, March 25 at 11:00 a.m. PT with Dan Schnur of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and representatives of polling firms Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint.

Call-in spots are limited. To reserve a spot for the phone conference, RSVP to Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu or (213) 740-0252.

Call-in numbers:
    United States: (800) 230-1085              
    International: (612) 234-9959

WEBSITE: /poll
TWITTER: @usclatpoll

About the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll: The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is a series of statewide public opinion polls in California, designed to survey voter attitudes on a wide range of political, policy, social and cultural issues.

Conducted at regular intervals throughout the year, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is one of the largest polls of registered voters in the state and has been widely cited, helping to inform the public and to encourage discourse on key political and policy issues.

About USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the heart of the university. The largest, oldest and most diverse of USC's 19 schools, USC Dornsife is composed of more than 30 academic departments and dozens of research centers and institutes. USC Dornsife is home to approximately 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 750 faculty members with expertise across the humanities, social sciences and sciences.

About the Los Angeles Times: The Los Angeles Times is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a daily readership of 2 million and 3 million on Sunday, and a combined print and interactive local weekly audience of 4.5 million. The fast-growing latimes.com draws over 10 million unique visitors monthly.