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Politicians often call for gun law reforms in the wake of mass shootings, including after the attack on a July Fourth parade in Illinois or when 19 children and two teachers were killed in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. There's a new poll from NPR and Ipsos out today. It shows strong support among gun owners for key measures like background checks, but it also reveals stark partisan divisions and clear limits to what people who buy and keep guns say they'll accept. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: The NPR/Ipsos poll shows that 84% of all gun owners polled and an almost equal percentage of all Republican gun owners support expanding background checks for all gun sales, including at gun shows and private sales. And 67% of all gun owners support raising the minimum age to buy any kind of gun from 18 to 21. Even a majority of Republican gun owners support that, according to the survey. Ipsos pollsters agreed to use first names only. We contacted some of them to expand on their thoughts. A Republican poll respondent named Amber is a police officer in Pennsylvania. She says too many young people today seem too quick to reach for firearms to settle disputes.
AMBER: When we were young, we'd go in the playground. They'd all beat the crap out of each other, and everything would be solved. Today, unfortunately, everyone handles everything with a gun. So if we raise the age, that might also make ownership a little bit more responsible.
WESTERVELT: Recently passed federal gun legislation includes incentive money for states to pass red-flag laws, expands the background check system for gun buyers under the age of 21 and boosts money for mental health resources in schools and communities. It also adds dating partners to a law that prevents spouses convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun, eliminating the so-called boyfriend loophole. The NPR poll shows strong bipartisan support for many of those measures, including red-flag provisions that allow police to temporarily remove guns from people a judge has found to be too dangerous to have a firearm. Poll respondent and gun owner Christopher Montez (ph) of Connecticut says there are simply too many guns in the wrong hands.
CHRISTOPHER MONTEZ: Background checks, red-flag laws and raising the age should be something that we as a country should be doing.
WESTERVELT: Most gun owners, regardless of party affiliation, told us the main reason they own a firearm is to protect their family. And not surprisingly, a majority of gun owners told us it's more important to protect gun rights than control gun violence. But here, there's a sharp partisan divide, with a roughly 60-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on that question. And what to do about AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles, a weapon type used in many mass shootings, also divides gun owners. Poll participant Lizzie (ph) is a 45-year-old self-described conservative who lives in West Texas. She says she's fed up with the stream of mass shootings, massacres at schools, stores and parades. She supports a renewed ban on AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles.
LIZZIE: I do support that because I think that we should be protecting our kids. We don't need to be losing kids like that. They should grow up and be who they want and fulfill their dreams. You know, they're just too innocent to die so young.
WESTERVELT: New sales of those style weapons were barred by federal law for a decade before Congress let it lapse in 2004. Mass shootings went up threefold after it expired, though experts debate causation. President Biden wants a renewed ban on AR-15-style weapons. Polls show 61% of Americans favor that.
FRED: What the - can I say hell? What the hell they want with a AR-15 or whatever?
WESTERVELT: That's a poll respondent named Fred. He's a 73-year-old Republican gun owner in Bakersfield, Calif. Fred wants to see AR 15 style guns outlawed except for special police units and military use.
FRED: It's made for war. It is not made to hunt with. It is made to kill, OK? Regular people have no business owning them. That's part of the problem we have.
WESTERVELT: But Fred and Lizzie appear to be Republican outliers on this issue. The NPR/Ipsos poll shows just 25% of Republican gun owners back an AR-15-style gun ban, while 84% of gun-owning Democrats support that move. That partisan divide underscores the difficulty in generating broad support for restricting them.
MONTEZ: I'm not for banning any of them. If they're going to ban just ARs, that doesn't make sense.
WESTERVELT: That's Christopher Montez, the gun owner in Connecticut and a political independent. There are so many other weapons that are semi-automatic, he says, that he believes canceling AR-15-style weapons will do little to stop gun violence.
MONTEZ: There are other high-powered, fairly high-capacity guns that don't look like ARs. And so are you going to not ban those?
WESTERVELT: The poll also shows 76% of all gun owners and 88% of Republican gun owners don't trust the federal government to look out for their best interests, a number underscoring the difficulty in finding consensus to enact and enforce new gun laws. Eric Westervelt, NPR News.
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