Background check support strong, but lower, a year after Newtown

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by Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto, Fred Backus

CBS

Posted on December 13, 2013 at 6:24 AM

Updated Friday, Dec 13 at 6:50 AM

(CBS News) -- On the cusp of the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., a CBS News poll reveals Americans overwhelmingly support a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers, a measure that has so far failed to be put into law.  

Eighty-five percent of Americans favor such a law, including large majorities of Republicans (84 percent), Democrats (92 percent), independents (81 percent), and gun owners (84 percent).

As widespread as this support is, it is down slightly from January 2013, a month after the shooting.  Then support for a federal law requiring universal background checks was at 92 percent.

But Americans remain far more divided generally on the idea of stricter gun laws.  Forty-nine percent advocate stricter gun laws, while 36 percent think gun laws should be kept as they are, and 12 percent think they should be made less strict.

Results are nearly identical to what they were in May, though support for stricter gun laws is down from a year ago right after the shooting – when support increased to 57 percent.

There are partisan differences:  just 25 percent of Republicans support stricter gun laws, while such a measure is favored by 70 percent of Democrats and a plurality of independents.  A slight majority of gun owners think gun laws should be kept as they are now.

These differences are reflected in a disagreement over just how effective stricter gun laws would be in helping to deter gun violence.  While a slight majority of Americans think stricter gun laws would help at least some, just 27 percent think they would help a lot.  Forty-three percent don’t think stricter gun laws would help much, if at all.  Democrats are the most optimistic that stricter gun laws would help, while Republicans are the most skeptical.

There is more agreement on another measure to help deter gun violence: better mental health screening.  Three in four Americans think better mental health screening would help at least some, including 44 percent who think it will help a lot.  Regardless of partisanship, most Americans think better health screening would help at least some to prevent gun violence, though Republicans are less likely to think it will help a lot.

This poll was conducted by telephone December 4-8, 2013 among 1,015 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, Pa.  Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.  The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher.  Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.  This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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