School safety bill renews state gun debate

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THE latest statewide poll numbers on gun ownership, and tougher gun laws, provide a fascinating backdrop to the coming Capitol debate over school safety.

According to the new Marquette Law School Poll, 44% of voters responding statewide said there was a gun in their household, and 48% said there was not. The other 8% refused to answer.

Those gun ownership percentages have not changed over the years that the survey has been conducted, pollster and Marquette Law School faculty member Charles Franklin said.

FRANKLIN'S survey also attempted to measure which households in Wisconsin are more likely to have a gun:

For example, 57% of Green Bay-area households reported having a gun; northern and western Wisconsin, 50%; Milwaukee suburbs and Madison, 39%, and City of Milwaukee, 31%.

One more surprise in Franklin's survey:

The percentage of residents who favor background checks to complete private and gun-show sales fell slightly, even though the poll was taken only days after the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting that killed 17.

In the new poll, 81% of those surveyed supported background checks, and 16% opposed them. When the same question was asked last June, before mass shootings in Las Vegas and Florida, 85% supported background checks and 12% did not.

FRANKLIN wasn't surprised at the drop, however.

"Views on guns and gun control measures have been stable in our data over the last several years," Franklin said.

"Not only has the gun debate been occurring over many years, so have mass shootings," he said. "So it seems unlikely another shooting will change opinion much."

"If Sandy Hook didn't, what could?" added Franklin, referring to the December 2012 shooting at a Connecticut elementary school shooting that killed 27.

It's "more striking that background checks have such large support even in gun-owning households," Franklin noted.

THOSE numbers: 78% of those polled who said there was a gun in their house supported background checks, and 18% opposed them. In homes without a gun, 86% favored and 13% opposed background checks.

There's more of a "typical divide" between gun owners and non-owners on banning assault-style weapons, Franklin added.

He said 52% of those who reported a gun in their house opposed banning assault-style weapons, and 43% supported that ban. But 69% of respondents in households without guns supported that ban; 28% did not.

Overall, the Marquette survey found support for a ban on assault-style weapons has stayed about the same across Wisconsin over the last five years.

In the latest poll, 56% favored a ban on assault-style weapons; 40% opposed it. In March 2013, 54% favored it; 43% opposed it.

ALL this is a fascinating backdrop to meetings Gov. Scott Walker and aides are having with legislators and public school leaders on what should be included in the school safety package the governor has promised to introduce soon, and how much it will cost.

Florida legislators last week approved a $400-million bill that raises the age to buy a gun from 18 to 21, requires a three-day waiting period or completion of a background check, funds school mental health programs and allows the commitment of those police and judges consider threats.

Although Walker won't recommend tougher gun control laws, Democrats in the Legislature and running for governor will again push background checks and other changes.

"People want us to make sure that kids who are in school are safe," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Assembly six days after high school shootings in Parkland.

ASSEMBLY Republicans dumped the background check plan of Democrats, substituting a plan to pay for armed school security officers.

Democratic Rep. Chris Taylor, of Madison, warned Republicans that their core voters support background checks.

"Those moms in those suburbs, you [Republicans] should go talk to them," Taylor said. "They are panicked that something is going to happen to their children."

Franklin said he knows that asking someone if there is a gun in their household is a "sensitive question," even anonymously.

"I'm sure some people choose to say they don't have a gun in the house when in fact they do," he said, noting the 8% who refused to answer that question.

But, he added, if some with a gun in the house told pollsters they didn't have one, Wisconsin is "close to evenly balanced between gun and non-gun households."

Steven Walters is a senior producer with the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

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