What do Virginians want from special session on gun control?
By Davis Burroughs
July 3, 2019

A recent survey of Virginia voters finds widespread support for bread-and-butter gun safety laws that have divided the state legislature along party lines for years.

In the aftermath of the May shooting in Virginia Beach that left 13 people dead, including the perpetrator, and ahead of the General Assembly’s upcoming special session on gun control, Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy released a memo summarizing its polling on the issue to inform the debate.

“In 2016 and 2018 surveys, voters overall strongly supported several specific gun control proposals, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, limiting concealed carry, and banning assault-style weapons,” the researchers wrote in the memo.

According to a 2018 CNU survey, 84% of Virginia voters support requiring background checks on gun sales. In the 2019 legislative session, Republicans rejected four Democrat-backed bills to require that prospective buyers pass an instant background check before purchasing a firearm.

GOP lawmakers’ opposition to these bills are out-of-sync with their constituents, according to the poll; 76% of self-identified Republicans said they support background checks for private gun sales.

Survey respondents also opposed allowing anyone who carries a gun to conceal and carry without a permit, including 72% of Republicans and 88% of Democrats. But in contrast to public opinion, a bill that made it easier for out-of-state residents to secure a concealed carry permit was the only notable piece of gun legislation to make it to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk in 2019. Northam, a Democrat, vetoed the measure in February.

The CNU surveys also found that nearly two-thirds, 65%, of voters favor outlawing assault-style weapons. Republicans split evenly on the proposal, 49% – 49%, though 84% of Democrats strongly supported it.

Since the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, Virginia Democrats have made many attempts to re-implement parts of the law at the state level. Those efforts include bills to ban the sale of extended capacity magazines, which were used by the shooter in Virginia Beach to fire as many bullets as possible without having to reload.

Republicans rejected most, if not all, of their proposals. In the past few legislative sessions alone, GOP lawmakers have killed over 50 gun safety bills.

On the general question of gun control, a majority overall said it is more important to control who can buy guns (54%-41% in 2018; 55%-41% in 2016) than to protect the rights of gun owners.

All 140 Virginia General Assembly seats are on the ballot this fall. In many of those races, the state’s gun laws will be, too.

The 2018 survey of 870 registered Virginia voters was conducted by landline and telephone interviews. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6%. The 2016 poll is based on landline and telephone interviews of 804 registered Virginia voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8%.

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