The nation is evenly split between President Obama and congressional Republicans over whom it trusts to handle the issue of gun control, while most continue to support stricter gun-control measures of the kind backed by Democrats, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

On gun control, Obama is trusted by 42 percent of Americans, compared with 41 percent who trust Republicans. Demonstrating a continued divide, those in gun-owning households trust Republicans over Obama by more than two to one (56 percent to 26 percent), while those in non-gun-owning households are nearly a mirror image (58 percent trust Obama; 26 percent trust Republicans).

The public continues to favor stricter gun-control laws by a margin of 52 percent to 45 percent, on par with polling results seen last year and after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December.

Despite concerns among gun-control advocates that interest in the issue would wane in the months after the Newtown shooting, opinions on gun control remain strong. Seventy-eight percent of Americans have strong views on the issue, with 42 percent of respondents strongly favoring stricter laws and 36 percent strongly opposed to new legislation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet again Tuesday to continue debating Democratic-backed gun-control bills, including a plan to expand the nation’s gun background check system, a total ban on military-style assault weapons and a bill to expand a Justice Department grant program providing federal funding for school security plans.

Most support background checks, assault weapons ban

The committee approved a bill last week that would make gun trafficking — or the practice of illegally purchasing firearms for someone else — a federal crime. Legislation aimed at that goal is backed by 82 percent of the public and has support from large majorities of gun-owning households (81 percent) and non-gun households (84 percent).

Expanding the nation’s background check system has the broadest support, with nine in 10 Americans supporting a proposal to require background checks on people buying firearms at gun shows. Eight in 10 strongly support closing the “gun show loophole” — a six-point jump from a similar poll in January. New background check legislation has strong support from gun-owning and non-gun-owning households, the poll found.

Senators are struggling to reach bipartisan accord on a background check plan that would provide limited exceptions for private transfers between family members or close friends but also require recordkeeping for private gun transactions. Democrats say records of private sales are necessary to enforce the law and assist law enforcement officials in gun crimes, while Republicans say that forcing gun owners to keep records could infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Americans support a ban on assault weapons by 57 percent to 41 percent, a margin unchanged from a January poll. A bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) would ban nearly 160 specific semiautomatic rifles or pistols and is expected to be approved by the Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee. But final passage in the Senate is less certain because Republicans and about a dozen moderate Democrats facing reelection in 2014 say they oppose any bill that bans specific weapons or parts.

In the poll, 42 percent report they or someone in their home owns a gun, while 57 percent say there is no weapon in their home, little changed from January and similar to Post-ABC polls over the past decade.

Public support for armed guards at the nation’s schools is slightly less popular now (50 percent) than in January (55 percent). Support dropped by 10 points among gun-owning households while non-gun households remain evenly split. The bill under consideration by the Judiciary Committee does not mandate posting armed guards at schools but would authorize the Justice and Education departments to provide funding to eligible school districts revamping security plans, which could include requests for armed guards.

The Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted March 7 to 10 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full poll is 3.5 percentage points.

Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Polling director Jon Cohen and pollster Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

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