While Pennsylvania voters are divided on broader questions of gun control and rights, a majority supports a legislative measure to shield gun owners who use deadly force because they feel they are in danger, according to a new survey.
As the National Rifle Association convenes in Pittsburgh this week, the Legislature is considering proposals to expand protection against prosecution or lawsuits for gun owners who use their weapons inside or outside their homes because they have a reasonable belief that their life or safety is in danger. The House and Senate have passed separate but similar versions of the bill, so that further legislative action is needed before the proposal goes to the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett. During last year's campaign, Mr. Corbett said he supported the proposal.
A Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday found a nearly even split -- 48 percent to 47 percent -- between those who feel it is more important to protect the rights of gun owners and those who say it is more important to control gun ownership. At the same time, however, 53 percent of the sample said they supported the call to expand the legal protections for gun owners who use their weapons to protect themselves. Thirty-nine percent said they opposed the legislation and 8 percent were undecided.
Both questions showed partisan and gender gaps. Republicans favored gun rights over control by a margin of 69 percent to 29 percent. Democrats split in the opposite direction, with 66 percent saying that gun control was more important and 29 percent favoring gun rights. Independents favored gun rights by the relatively narrow margin of 49 percent to 44 percent. Men and women also split sharply as men favored gun rights, 58 percent to 35 percent, while women stressed the importance of control, 56 percent to 39 percent.
The measures to shield gun owners who use their weapons in perceived self-defense produced similar splits. Sixty-eight percent of GOP voters favored the proposal with 39 percent opposed. A majority of Democrats, 54 percent, opposed the proposal with 39 percent in favor. More than three out of five men favored the bills; women were evenly divided.
In all groups, there was significantly less support for the proposition that streets would be safer if most people carried guns. Overall, 64 percent of the Pennsylvania voters said streets would be more dangerous if most people were armed, while 28 percent said ubiquitous gun possession would make streets safer. Majorities of Democrats, independents and women said that such a widely armed populace would make streets more dangerous. Republicans and male voters tended to agree with that position but by smaller margins. Even gun owners were split almost evenly on the desirability of more widespread carrying of guns.
On the overall questions of gun control, Pennsylvanians' views are close to the findings of national surveys. The Gallup organization has found that the levels of support for stricter gun control nationally have declined steadily from a high of nearly 80 percent in the early 1990s, when the since-expired federal ban on so-called assault weapons was enacted, to a low of 44 percent in a survey conducted last year.
In accepting his party's nomination in 2008, President Barack Obama said, "The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping those AK-47s out of the hands of criminals."
In office, the administration has made no discernible steps toward changing gun laws.
Politics Editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562.