RICHMOND, Va. — Virginians overwhelmingly support requiring background checks on buyers at gun shows and posting armed police officers in public school buildings after last month’s Connecticut school shooting, according to a statewide poll released Thursday.
But Quinnipiac University’s survey also shows Virginians divided on the issue of gun ownership. Half of the 1,134 registered voters surveyed Jan. 4-7 said guns protect people from criminals, while 41 percent said guns put them more at risk.
The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.
The survey is the first to explore attitudes about guns in Virginia since last month’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 26 people dead, including 20 children. The massacre was the second-worst mass shooting in U.S. history, ranking only behind the 2007 Virginia Tech attack in which a gunman killed 32 people.
The poll paid particular attention to Virginia’s “gun show loophole.”
Virginia requires licensed firearm dealers to check the backgrounds of all buyers, but the law does not apply to purchases from private sellers at gun shows — large, private weapons bazaars. A Republican legislature has perennially rebuffed efforts to close the loophole.
The Quinnipiac poll, however, found 92 percent of those surveyed favored gun show background checks.
Senate Democrats have sponsored two bills that would require gun vendors to conduct background checks at private shows. Both await action by the 2013 General Assembly, which convened its 46-day session Wednesday. The bills have been assigned to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
When asked whether Virginia’s gun-control laws should be stricter or more lenient, 49 percent of those surveyed favored tighter control of guns, 6 percent said they should be less stringent, and 42 percent felt they should remain the same.
Two-thirds of the respondents supported posting police officers in schools. And three out of every five supported limiting gun purchases to one per month, one year after the legislature repealed just such a law that had been on the books since 1993.
Other gun-related questions in the Virginia survey found:
—58 percent supported a national ban on assault weapons.
—59 percent supported banning high-capacity ammunition magazines.
—62 percent said that allowing people to own assault weapons makes the nation more dangerous.
—66 percent opposed letting teachers carry concealed weapons into their classrooms.
While Quinnipiac did not provide a detailed geographic breakdown of survey participants, it said support for gun control was much stronger in urban areas, while support for gun rights prevailed in rural areas.
“The data indicates that gun control is the ultimate geographic issue,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Twenty-six percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Republicans, who are generally more supportive of gun rights. Thirty-four percent said they were Democrats, who are generally more in favor of gun control, and 29 percent said they were independent. Ten percent did not reveal any political affiliation.
On other issues, the poll found that 52 percent felt President Barack Obama has done a good job while 44 percent said he hasn’t. By the same ratio, respondents said Obama showed leadership during the recent “fiscal cliff” showdown with Congress. Half said Obama did the better job negotiating with congressional Republicans while 21 percent said the congressional Republicans fared better.
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