By a 2-1 margin, Connecticut voters want stricter gun controls following the massacre of 26 children and women in Newtown, with even stronger support for universal background checks on gun purchasers and the annual registration of all handguns, a new poll shows.
A Quinnipiac University poll released today found 68 percent of voters support expanding the statewide ban on assault weapons and limiting ammo magazines to no more than 10 rounds, two provisions opposed by some Republicans and demanded by leading Democrats, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
"In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, there is overwhelming support among Connecticut voters for strengthening the state's gun laws. It is remarkable how bipartisan the support is for some of the most talked-about gun-control measures. Universal background checks tops the list with 93 percent support, higher than we've ever seen for any issue in 20 years of Connecticut surveys," said Douglas Schwartz, the poll's director.
The poll was released a day after a bipartisan legislative task force failed to reached consensus on a legislative response to Newtown and hours before legislative leaders are to begin negotiating the elements of a gun-violence bill that is expected to come to a vote in the next two weeks.
"There is consensus in the state of Connecticut," said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. "That's why I'm looking forward to our meeting at three o'clock. I'm hoping that it can be relatively brief when we get in the room. Follow the lead of the people of Connecticut."
Williams and other Democratic leaders are to meet with the Republian minority leaders, Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk and Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, at his Capitol office.
Voters, however, were less optimistic about the chances of bipartisanship on guns.
"Connecticut voters are not optimistic that Democratic and Republican elected officials can or will act together to reduce gun violence," Schwartz said. "Democrats are optimistic, 50 to 43 percent, but Republicans are not, 64 to 32 percent, and independent voters are pessimistic, 58 to 35 percent."
On Tuesday, Democrats and Republicans on a legislative task force issued separate recommendations on gun control, with common support for the provisions deemed most popular in new poll.
The overlap included universal background checks, a gun offender registry, rules for safer gun storage, restricting ammunition sales to gun permit holders, and expanding background checks by requiring a closer look at the mental health history of gun purchasers.
The GOP declined to join Democrats in supporting a redefined assault weapon ban that would cover the sale of all types of AR-15s, nor would its members endorse a limiting the sale and ownership of magazines to no more than 10 rounds. Adam Lanza used a legally purchased AR-15 and 30-round magazines to kill 20 students and six educators in Newtown.
Eighty-four percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents support stronger gun control, compared to only 45 percent of GOP voters.
"Interestingly, Republican voters are divided 45 to 48 percent on the general question, 'Do you support or oppose stricter gun-control laws in Connecticut.' They support, however, most of the specific measures," Schwartz said.
The poll found voters more focused on guns than the related cultural issue of violent video games. Voters were divided on a proposed ban on children under 18 playing violent point-and-shoot video games in public arcades, with 46 percent in favor and 48 percent opposed.
Malloy got mixed grades on his handling of the gun issue since Newtown, perhaps a reflection of his first counseling patience and reflection as the state grapples with gun policy, then more recently insisting that legislators were moving too slowly after the Dec. 14 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Overall, 41 percent approved and 38 percent disapproved of his performance, with 33 percent says he was moving too quickly, 17 percent saying too slowly and 42 percent saying his pace was about right.
His approval rating on guns was 58 percent to 19 percent among Democrats and 43 percent ot 35 percent among independents, while GOP voters disapproved, 55 percent to 30 percent.
The governor, who recently passed the mid-point in his first term and faces re-election in 2014, had an overall job rating split evenly, with 43 percent approving and disapproving.
By a 42 percent to 20 percent split, voters said they were more likely to support a legislator who votes for stricter gun control, but 35 percent said it would not affect their vote.
Malloy said he wasn't surprised in general with the call for gun law changes to promote greater safety.
"I suppose what is surprising is the degree to which gun owners and NRA (National Rifle Association) members support serious changes in these laws," he said. "I mean, universal background checks are almost supported universally -- go figure."
Malloy added that now is the time for legislators to act on a reform package. "I'd love to do it on a bipartisan basis, but what's most important is we get it done."
Using landlines and cell phones, the university surveyed 1,009 registered voters on March 4 and 5. It has a margin of error of plus or minor 3.1 percentage points. Live interviewers call landlines and cell phones.
Follow Mark Pazniokas on Twitter @CtMirrorPaz