A Marquette Law School poll released on March 19 found that a majority of Wisconsinites favor increased gun control, with 81 percent of respondents said support for expanding background checks at private gun sales and gun shows.
Lara Johann-Reichart, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and the new president of the College Democrats, said the results of the poll were consistent with state’s general attitude towards guns.
“(The) poll accurately reflects Wisconsin’s common sense attitude that background checks on gun buyers is one of the best ways to ensure safety,” Johann-Reichart said.
The most divisive issue on the poll was the possibility of an assault weapons ban, with 54 percent of respondents in support of a ban and 43 percent opposed. The results became even more polarized when current gun ownership was taken into account. The proposed ban was opposed by 52 percent of gun owners but dropped to 36 percent when non-gun owners were surveyed.
Patrick Garrett, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and the current President of the College Republicans, also found the results to be very consistent.
“Current gun owners tend to be less supportive of bans on any firearms, so them being less supportive of an assault weapons ban does not surprise me,” Garrett said. “However, we need to ensure that regulations and restrictions do not limit a citizen’s ability to defend his home and family.”
Johann-Reichart sees the split as coming from a different source.
“The divide about the assault weapon ban isn’t surprising given a lot of the rhetoric we’ve seen that is laden with slippery-slope fallacies in regard to gun rights,” Johann-Reichart said. “While I understand the concern, I think there has been a great deal of misinformation.”
Supporters of an all-out assault weapons ban suffered a major set-back last Tuesday when Senate Democrats in Washington said their proposed gun control legislation would not include one.
The law students in charge of the poll took responses via landline and cell phone March 11-14, 2013. To make the responses even by population, all responses were weighted to reflect the differences in population throughout the state. A total of 1,060 people were polled.
In 2012, there were 73 homicides as result of guns in Milwaukee according to the Milwaukee Police Department. Sixty percent of Milwaukee residents said they were in favor of an assault weapon ban. Green Bay residents were the most divided, with 50 percent opposed to a ban and 49 percent in favor.
Overall, rural areas of Wisconsin, especially the northern and southwestern parts of the state, were most in favor of expanding background checks at 74 percent. These two areas were also the most adamant against an assault weapons ban at 58 percent.
Johann-Reichart said a compromise can be made between gun-control and gun-rights advocates that can appeal to both sides of the debate.
“Gun ownership is an important right for Wisconsinites, and President Obama’s gun control initiatives are directed toward ensuring that right and making sure gun carriers and non-carriers are safe,” Johann-Reichart said.
For some Republicans, the answer to gun violence revolves around increasing background checks and dedicating resources to improving mental health.
“The mental health of firearm owners needs to be taken into account,” Garrett said. “What we need is a reformed process to legally purchase a firearm, including more thorough background checks and some way to evaluate buyers’ mental health before they purchase weapons.”