Maryland residents overwhelmingly support Gov. Martin O’Malley’s plan to force gun buyers to submit to fingerprinting, safety training and more background checks, according to a new Washington Post poll.
Across the state, fully 85 percent back the governor’s licensing plan and 73 percent do so “strongly.” They also support banning high-capacity ammunition clips and assault weapons — two other portions of O’Malley’s (D) bill, which in the wake of the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., would give Maryland among the nation’s strictest gun-control laws.
Ten weeks after that attack, Marylanders are more supportive of stricter gun-control measures than Americans overall. They also tilt in favor of measures beyond what O’Malley and the legislature have seemed willing to do, such as putting an armed guard in every school in the state, a proposal backed nationally by the National Rifle Association.
Concerns about gun violence and crime dwarf economic concerns in Prince George’s County, where six teenage students and a college senior have died already this year in shootings, as well as in Baltimore, which has recorded 23 shooting homicides. Residents in both districts overwhelmingly back stricter gun laws, as do those in Montgomery County, even as gun violence is less widely perceived to be a problem there.
Overall, more than six in 10 favor stricter gun control laws in Maryland and on the national level, outpacing the 54 percent of all Americans who support stricter laws in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.
O’Malley’s (D) strict new gun licensing plan, which the Senate started debating on Tuesday, draws wide support from across the state’s political spectrum, with backing from more than nine in 10 Democrats and more than seven in 10 Republicans and independents. Most of those in gun-owning households also approve of the plan, with 59 percent saying they do so “strongly.”
Proponents of the licensing provision say requiring purchasers to submit fingerprints to police would reduce so-called “straw” purchases, when a family member, friend or acquaintance buys a gun on behalf of another person who might not qualify.
“I support it, absolutely,” said John Pendelton, 58, of Temple Hills. “Those second-hand gun buys, they’re a problem and if someone gets caught, they should be punished just as equally as someone who uses the gun.”
Pendelton said he once owned guns in his youth, but no longer does and has seen too much gun violence to put Second Amendment rights above gun control.
“First of all, people do have the right,” Pendelton said. “The thing of it is, you have so many people with weapons in their homes that violence happens, in the heat of the moment, something crazy ... but if the gun is not there, people have to find a better way to handle the situation.”
The vast majority in the state’s gun-owning households support background checks at gun shows, something that is already required in Maryland, but not across the Potomac in Virginia. A clear majority also supports O’Malley’s licensing requirement and placing armed guards in schools.
Maryland residents in gun-owning households, however, split more closely on banning assault weapons, 53 in support to 45 percent in opposition. Over half of gun owners, 54 percent, oppose banning high-capacity clips.
Overall, 64 percent of Marylanders in gun-owning households oppose stricter Maryland gun control. Republicans also oppose it by 64 percent to 34 percent.
Maryland, though, is not much of a gun state, according to the poll. Just 29 percent of Marylanders live in gun-owning households compared to 44 percent nationally in a recent Post-ABC poll.
There are also racial and gender fault lines in the state’s gun control debate.
Eight in 10 African Americans favor stricter laws, while whites are split evenly, 50 percent for and 49 percent against.
Seven in 10 women want more gun control, while just over half of men agree.
One area where Marylanders say current laws are satisfactory is in the emotionally charged arena of mental health and access to firearms.
Under Maryland’s current law, a resident committed against his will for 30 consecutive days or more is banned from later purchasing a firearm unless he can convince a judge to allow it.
O’Malley had originally proposed leaving that standard in place, but requiring judges to make a determination of dangerousness at the time of commitment. Those found to be a hazard to others would be precluded from later buying weapons. In consultation with Senate Democrats, the administration agreed to tighten the restriction.
Under the version of the bill the Senate will begin debating Tuesday, Maryland would adopt a law similar to one passed in Virginia after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. The measure would prohibit anyone involuntarily committed to a public or private mental health facility for any length of time from purchasing a gun.
Asked about the state’s current 30-day threshold for all mental health patients, 61 percent call the law “about right,” while 4 percent say it is too strict and 33 percent say it is not strict enough.
Pamylle Fleming, 21, a junior at Wellesley College from Beltsville who is majoring in public health said she disagreed with laws taking away the rights of the mentally ill.
“I don’t think its right, that all people that have been committed, that they then cannot have access [to guns.] These individuals don’t need to be further discriminated against,” Fleming said. “The mentally ill are often more likely to be the victims of gun violence than the perpetrators.”
In the survey, Marylanders were also asked about another potential solution to gun violence, it was the same question asked in 1993: “Would you favor or oppose prohibiting the sale of all handguns?”
Unlike 20 years ago, when a slim, 51-percent majority supported that idea, this time around just 28 percent support the idea, with 70 percent opposed.
The Post poll was conducted Feb. 21-24, among a random sample of 1,156 adult residents of Maryland. The results from the full survey have a margin of error or plus or minus 3.5 percent.
Kate Havard contributed to this report.
Scott Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight Director Jon Cohen and pollster Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.