CASTLETON — As the national debate on gun control continues, Vermonters generally support increased measures for controlling access to guns and ammunition, a recent poll shows.
In a poll conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute at Castleton State College, about 61 percent of people polled favored or strongly favored banning the sale of assault weapons, while 54 percent supported making it illegal to own an assault rifle.
The measure requiring stricter reporting by mental health professionals to the National Instant Background Check System was favored by the vast majority of respondents, regardless of gun ownership, with 84 percent favoring or strongly favoring the measure, the poll shows.
On the issue of increasing access to permits for residents to conceal and carry weapons legally, Vermonters were almost evenly split: 44 percent favored the measure while 47 percent opposed it.
The results also show that Vermont gun owners are less supportive of restrictive measures, overall, than are those who do not own firearms.
More than 50 percent of gun owners favored banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines or clips, banning the further sale of assault weapons and closing the loophole on sales at gun shows.
Forty percent of gun owners favored making it illegal to own an assault weapon.
Rich Clark, director of the polling institute, said the poll was part of a broader policy poll that also included questions on wind energy, the “death with dignity” debate, cellphone use while driving and single-payer health care.
“We thought they were topical questions,” he said. “These measures will be taken up at some point.”
The poll was conducted Feb. 6 to Feb. 17, with 620 people interviewed. For this sample size, the margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 3.9 percent.
Respondents were also asked if their views on gun control changed after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last year. According to the results, only 19 percent said the event changed their views. In that group, 90 percent would now support changes in gun control while 6 percent were now less likely to support gun control.
According to Clark, the institute does not have previous Vermont polling results on gun control to which his year’s results can be compared. He said, however, they can roughly compare the data to nationwide polls on the issue.
A poll by Quinnipiac University and a Gallup Poll suggest that Vermonters are more supportive of gun control measures than are Americans in general, Clark said.
“We have no (other) numbers,” he said. “This is the first time we have asked about guns in Vermont.”
Danielle LaFleur Brooks, who organized two recent gun control rallies at the Statehouse in Montpelier, said she is happily surprised with the poll results and said it was great news.
“My sense is that there are many people worried (about) the easy access to very dangerous weapons,” she said.
LaFleur added that 61 percent of Vermonters favoring a ban on assault weapons is phenomenal. “That’s a helpful number,” she said. “I hope our legislators read it, hear it and do something about it.”
Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Club, the state’s chapter of the National Rifle Association, was not as thrilled about the poll outcome. He said poll numbers can change from one day to another and it depends on how informed the respondents are beforehand.
“From what I have seen of polls like USA Today/Gallup, the results can be different,” Hughes said. “To make an informed decision they need more information.”
He said the information distributed by the media is often full of misconceptions, such as the idea that Vermont is flooding other parts of the country with guns because it has the least restrictive gun laws. He said these misconceptions always impact the outcome of the polls.
“We are right in the middle of the country on gun laws,” Hughes said. “This impacts the results in the polls.”
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