After El Paso, Dayton, Franklin & Marshall poll finds strong support for new gun laws

August 8, 2019 6:44 am

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. speaks at a rally pushing for gun control laws at the Capitol in Harrisburg on August 7, 2019. The even came just days after two mass shootings in 24 hours killed 31 Americans. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Mirroring the national mood, a new Franklin & Marshall College poll finds Pennsylvanians well ahead of policymakers when it comes to support for new laws regulating gun ownership.

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the 627 respondents contacted by the Lancaster County-based school say they “strongly” or “somewhat” favor “new laws that regulate gun ownership,” compared to 33 percent who oppose new controls. Three percent of respondents were undecided.

The survey, conducted from  July 29 to Aug. 4, falls within the weekend of deadly shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, that left 31 people dead, and wounded dozens more. The polling sample includes 295 Democrats, 251 Republicans and 81 independent voters. The poll had an overall margin of error of 6 percent.

The results are all-but-unchanged from a March F&M poll that found respondents favoring new gun laws 62-35 percent, with 3 percent undecided.

“The support for gun control is there — and it’s been there,” F&M pollster Terry Madonna said Wednesday. “The real question is whether there’s going to be pressure on lawmakers in their districts,” to act.

Madonna acknowledged the unusual circumstances of the poll coming in the midst of the mass murders in Texas and Ohio, but he pointed to the long-term consistency of public support for gun control measures.

“I wouldn’t be surprised, if there’s a another poll soon, that the support [for gun control] is even higher,” he said.

EL PASO, TEXAS – AUGUST 04: A woman walks away from a makeshift memorial outside Walmart, near the scene of a mass shooting which left at least 20 people dead, on August 4, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old male suspect, identified as Patrick Crusius from a Dallas suburb, surrendered to police at the scene. At least 26 people were wounded in the shooting. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

While the August F&M results include an overwhelming number of non-gun owners among respondents (66-34 percent), the near-even partisan split between in the ranks of respondents mirrors national trends that finds bipartisan support for background checks.

In a March 2019 Quinnipiac University poll, for instance, 86 percent of U.S. voters — including 80-17 percent among Republicans, and 76-20 percent among gun owners — said they approved of a U.S. House-passed bill requiring background checks for all gun purchases, including at gun shows and online purchases.

Ninety-three percent of respondents to that same Quinnipiac poll said they supported “requiring background checks for all gun-buyers.” That support ran 89-10 percent among Republicans and 87-12 percent among gun owners, pollsters found.

“Support for universal background checks has ranged from 88 to 97 percent in every Quinnipiac University poll since February 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. The highest level of support, 97 – 2 percent, came in a February 20, 2018 survey, six days after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting,” Quinnipiac pollsters said at the time.

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. speaks at a rally pushing for gun control laws at the Capitol in Harrisburg on August 7, 2019. The event came just days after two mass shootings in 24 hours killed 31 Americans. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

The new F&M results come even as Pennsylvania policymakers find themselves in a predictably reenergized debate over gun control measures.

Democrats in the state House on Wednesday renewed their call, issued earlier in the week, for a special session on gun violence.

“By calling a special session, you throw down the gauntlet,” Rep. Robert Freeman, D-Northampton, said. “If nothing comes out of it, that’s a terribly embarrassing thing for legislative leaders.”

During a rally later in the day on Wednesday, Wolf, joined by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and other allies, called for action in both Harrisburg and Washington.

Wolf said he’d  be willing to call a special session, but only if he’s convinced there’s the legislative will to take action.

“If Republicans and Democrats truly want to get together” for a special session, Wolf said, “I’m absolutely happy to do that.”

That might yet be the case.

In the state Senate, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, appeared to open the door to that debate, announcing that she plans to hold public hearings on the issue. But, she added, “symbolic steps on guns don’t save lives.”

“While every citizen feels urgency about action, the choices we make must be applicable across the state.  A patchwork of local ordinances will prove more troublesome for law-abiding citizens than it will any impediment to individuals determined to act out on their rage,” Baker said in a statement issued by her office.

Gov. Tom Wolf at his 2016 budget address. (Gov. Tom Wolf/Flickr.)

Whether any of this renewed push will actually result in legislation that eventually lands on Wolf’s desk is an open question.

Pennsylvania’s first new gun law in a decade, one requiring people convicted of domestic abuse or those subject to a protective order to more speedily surrender their guns to law enforcement, took effect in April. The House Judiciary Committee held multiple days of hearings on gun issues in 2018, but action has remained frustratingly out of reach for advocates.

Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he again intended to push for expanded background checks. But the Lehigh Valley lawmaker rejected any other gun-control measures, such as a ban on expanded magazines or an assault weapons ban. Speaking to reporters, Toomey called the weapons “extremely popular,” and didn’t think one was necessary.

In Washington, President Donald Trump has called for expanded background checks and for legislative authorization of extreme risk protection orders that could allow law enforcement or a family member to petition for a court order to seize weapons if they believe someone is at-risk of harming themselves or others. A similar measure is pending in Harrisburg. 

Asked Wednesday why he thought the current environment might be more conducive to reform, after so many previous efforts had failed, Wolf said he believed lawmakers and policymakers had no choice but to act.

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We have team coverage of the Franklin & Marshall College poll for you this Thursday morning.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.