Most Americans back Clinton vow to seek tighter gun control laws, poll says


WASHINGTON -- By a 2-1 margin, Americans back President Clinton's vow to challenge the National Rifle Association and seek tighter gun control laws, according to a new Times Mirror poll.

The poll released yesterday also found that by a margin of 57 percent to 29 percent, the public approves of the way that Mr. Clinton has handled the issue of controlling handguns. The results are based on a survey conducted Dec. 2-5, immediately after the president signed the Brady bill, which requires a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases. The bill will become law in three months.

The president strongly supported the Brady bill, which had been opposed by Presidents Reagan and Bush and by most Republicans in Congress. But he stressed that it is only a first step in tightening regulations. Gun violence, he said, has become so serious that he's now considering a much broader range of options, including national stand ards for state registration laws.

Some gun control advocates have called for banning all handguns, and Mr. Clinton has indicated that he would consider such a proposal. But he has said that he doesn't think the public would back such a move at this time. In addressing that issue, the Times Mirror survey found that 51 percent of those questioned opposed a law that would "ban the sale of handguns," while 45 percent approved.

But public opinion to put guns under further restrictions has been growing steadily in recent months, and a CBS poll earlier this week showed that Americans are evenly split, 49 percent to 49 percent, on the issue of banning all handguns except those issued to law enforcement officers.

The Times Mirror poll also asked about Mr. Clinton's vow to challenge the NRA on gun control, with 61 percent saying it was a good idea and 28 percent calling it a bad idea.

The survey, conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates, was based on telephone interviews among a nationwide sample of 1,479 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll found that 45 percent of the respondents believe that the NRA has too much influence on gun control issues, while 27 percent believe it has the right amount and 15 percent think the association doesn't have enough influence.

The NRA and other gun enthusiasts frequently cite the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" provision in opposing gun control. The Times Mirror poll found that by a wide margin -- 57 percent to 34 percent -- Americans believe it is more important to control gun ownership than to protect the right of Americans to own guns.

However, 60 percent of Americans oppose a law that "would make it illegal for ordinary citizens to own handguns, except in special circumstances," the poll found, while 35 percent would support it.

Of those interviewed, 45 percent said that they have a gun in their household.

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