WASHINGTON - A majority of Americans support stricter gun laws in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, but most oppose banning assault weapons, a move that is backed by President Barack Obama as a step to curb gun violence, according to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll.
Fifty-eight percent of Americans now say they favor stricter gun laws, up from 43 percent in October 2011. And the American public, which favored enforcing existing gun laws over passing new ones by 60 percent-35 percent in 2011, now is split on the issue, with 46 percent favoring enforcing current laws and 47 percent favoring passing new ones.
In terms of specific laws, however, the ban on assault weapons, which is a favorite target of gun-control advocates - including Obama - hasn't gained any significant support, according to the poll. Forty-four percent support such a move and 51 percent are against it. In October 2011, 43 percent supported an assault weapons ban and 53 percent said they were against it.
Obama, who has convened a task force led by Vice President Biden charged with coming up with a set of proposals to help curb the scourge of gun violence, said last week that "an unbalanced man shouldn't be able to get his hands on a military-style assault rifle so easily."
Congress instituted a ban on assault weapons in 1994, but the law lapsed in 2004. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has said that she will introduce legislation to reinstate the ban when Congress reconvenes next year, but National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre has called it a "phony piece of legislation."
The NRA, the nation's most powerful gun rights organization, has called for the federal government to put armed guards on duty in every school in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting and has flatly rejected any calls for tougher gun laws.
Police say Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother on Dec. 14 before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he killed 20 schoolchildren, six adults and then shot himself.
Other laws backed by Obama and gun-control advocates score much more favorably with the public: A near-unanimous 92 percent support background checks for buyers at gun shows, and 62 percent favor bans on high-capacity magazines, which can carry as many 30 rounds of ammunition.
Proponents of outlawing high-capacity gun magazines note that as many as a half-dozen kids escaped from Sandy Hook when Lanza paused either to reload or because his gun jammed, and they suggest the death toll could have been fewer than 26 if the gunman's clip held fewer rounds.
Opponents of such a ban say they don't think it would have any effect.
"Changing a magazine, I can do that pretty quick," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "The best way to interrupt a shooter is to keep them out of the school, and if they get in the school have somebody that can interrupt them through armed force."
The USA Today/Gallup Poll found 54 percent have a favorable opinion of the NRA, down 6 points from 2005, but generally in line with a series of polls done from 1993-2000.