Sebastiano Tomada/AP

Gun control support rises, but NRA says city ‘thugs’ behind bloodshed

An AP/GFK poll finds sharp partisan and geographic divides on gun control as NRA says no new laws needed

Americans’ appetite for more gun control has increased slightly over the past two years, according to poll results released Tuesday, and the National Rifle Association launched a campaign calling for the federal government to better enforce existing regulations and put, as the NRA’s chief put it, “thugs” and “gangbangers” in prison.

An Associated Press/GFK poll found that 58 percent of Americans support stronger gun laws, compared with 52 percent in December 2013. But the poll showed that Democrats and Republicans as well as rural and urban Americans remain sharply divided over what should be done to reduce the 30,000 gun deaths — 20,000 of them suicides — reported in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

About 80 percent of Democrats surveyed expressed support for stronger gun regulations, compared with 46 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans, the AP poll found. Among all surveyed Republicans, 20 percent thought existing gun laws should be less strict, and 41 percent said they favored no change.

Americans living in urban areas, especially the Northeast, were more likely to favor restrictions, with 60 percent saying new laws would be a good idea. In rural areas, just 40 percent said they wanted new laws.

Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, the nation’s largest gun lobby, pushed back against new regulations in a video released Tuesday, saying President Barack Obama could send violators of gun laws to prison for long terms under existing statutes but fails to do so.

LaPierre decried what he called the “third world carnage” in the president’s hometown of Chicago, which endures endemic gang warfare wounding thousands of people and killing hundreds each year.

“If the president held a press conference tomorrow morning and directed every federal jurisdiction to round up every felon with a gun, drug dealer with a gun and criminal gangbanger with a gun, law enforcement would have thousands of violent thugs in handcuffs and squad cars by sundown,” LaPierre said.

But the White House “just won’t do it,” he said. He didn’t offer details of how legally required due process or probable cause could figure into such a scenario.

The NRA previously said that authorities keeping a nationwide index of the mentally ill and preventing them from buying guns is the key to stopping mass shootings by disturbed individuals. The lobbying group has long maintained that putting more guns in the hands of responsible, legal gun owners would deter street crime and stop mass shooters. 

Gun control advocates say a more effective method would be extending background checks to private sales, not just purchases from licensed gun dealers. Private transactions make up 40 percent of gun sales, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group. 

Some public health researchers say new and tighter laws would have a substantial impact on stopping the flow of illegal guns onto inner city streets, where LaPierre said Obama has let bloodshed go unchecked.

David Rosenbloom, a professor of public health at Boston University who studies gun crime, alleged that LaPierre is not being truthful when he blames Obama for failing to enforce standing federal gun control laws. It’s the NRA, he said, that has done its best to undermine existing statutes.

“Wayne LaPierre believes he can shout lies and get them believed. The NRA has bullied Congress into cutting money for gun enforcement and prohibiting federal agencies from collecting and using the information they need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Rosenbloom said.

“Many of the guns used in the crimes he cites in Chicago came from NRA-protected gun stores and gun bazaars outside the city,” he added.

Anti-violence activists in Chicago sued four towns outside the city, where there are gun stores selling weapons that police have linked to violence in Chicago. They want the towns’ administrations to do more to make sure gun shops follow state and federal background check laws.

The NRA has consistently opposed further regulations on gun dealers or manufacturers. 

A new bill introduced in Congress on Wednesday seeks to make it easier for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives to monitor gun shops whose products are used in violent crimes.

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