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Virginians have mixed views on gun laws

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State poll finds support for armed officers in schools.

By Landmark News Service

Nearly half of Virginia voters favor stricter state gun laws and two-thirds support putting armed police officers in public schools, according to a new statewide poll released last week.
In the Quinnipiac University survey, a majority of registered voters voiced support for national bans on assault weapons and sales of high-capacity magazines. But 50 percent of voters believe gun ownership helps protect people from crime.
The survey of 1,134 registered voters was conducted between Jan. 4 and Jan. 7, about three weeks after the mass shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 26 people dead — 20 of them children. The poll has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

The new poll comes as the Obama administration considers new federal firearms restrictions in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. State lawmakers also expect renewed debates over gun laws during the Virginia General Assembly session that began Jan. 9, but gun control measures have failed to get far in recent legislative sessions.
“Virginians, by a slight margin, are in favor of more gun control, but they don’t seem to fit nicely into either camp in the gun debate following the Newtown school massacre,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
“There has been a small increase in the number favoring tougher gun control, but it is not large,” Brown said. “Moreover, the idea of stationing armed police in public schools, which many nationally have ridiculed, is favored by two out of three Virginians.”
In the poll, 49 percent said gun laws should be stricter and 42 percent said they should remain the same. In an August poll, 44 percent supported stricter gun laws.
But Virginians’ attitudes about gun laws break sharply along geographic lines, according to the Quinnipiac survey. Only 40 percent of rural voters think the laws should be stricter, while 61 percent of urban residents and 49 percent of suburban residents support more controls.
In the survey, 58 percent supported a national ban on assault weapons and 59 percent favor a prohibition on the sale of high-capacity magazines. Two-thirds oppose allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms in classrooms.
The poll also indicates that gun control is not a decisive issue for most voters in evaluating candidates. Nearly two-thirds said they could support a candidate with whom they agree on other issues, but disagree on guns. And 59 percent said the politically muscular National Rifle Association is more interested in protecting the rights of gun owners than the profits of gun-makers.
An overwhelming majority of 92 percent said they supported background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows. But the survey’s question did not make a distinction between sales by licensed firearms dealers, which already require background checks, and private transactions that don’t require such checks.
Despite the fact that the General Assembly repealed Virginia’s one-per-month limit on handgun purchases last year, 60 percent said they still favor the law, according to the poll.