USC/LAT Poll: Californians support gun control

California voters support a wide range of gun-control measures and say it’s more important to protect people from gun violence than to protect Second Amendment rights, according to a new statewide poll.

When asked whether they felt it is more important to protect people from gun violence than protect American’s right to own guns, a majority of California voters — 51 percent — said that they felt it is more important to protect people from gun violence; 46 percent agreed “strongly” with that statement. In comparison, 37 percent of voters said it’s more important to protect the right to own guns, with 32 percent agreeing “strongly.”

The University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 1,501 registered voters, conducted March 11-17 by two polling firms – one Democratic, one Republican – has a 2.9-point margin of error.

The poll found about a quarter of Californians own a firearm, compared to about 34 percent of American households as estimated by a recent General Social Survey.

“Politics is a natural outgrowth of culture,” poll director Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist who directs USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics, said in a news release. “And because the percentage of Californians who own guns is so much lower than the ownership rates of guns in other parts of the country, it shouldn’t surprise us that Californian’s attitudes toward gun control are much stronger than places where people are more likely to own or maintain a firearm.”

The gap between those emphasizing gun-violence reduction and protection of gun rights in this poll isn’t as large as that reported by the Field Poll last month; that earlier poll found 61 percent preferred imposing greater controls while 34 percent preferred protecting gun rights.

Asked about potential ways to curb gun violence, 92 percent of California voters told the USC/Times poll that they support background checks for all gun sales, which the state already requires; only 6 percent were opposed.

On other proposed gun-control measures:

    89 percent favor updating the national database used for background checks by improving the reporting of mental health records, while 8 percent oppose;
    87 percent favor increasing penalties for those who commit crimes with guns, while 9 percent oppose;
    85 percent favor increasing penalties for those who illegally buy, while 12 percent oppose;
    79 percent favor requiring ammunition buyers to provide a thumbprint and ID for background checks, while 19 percent oppose; and
    71 percent favor requiring all gun owners to be registered, licensed and insured, while 26 percent oppose.

Lots more, after the jump…

Although 66 percent of voters oppose (and 31 percent favor) arming teachers, administrators or janitors in schools to protect campuses against violent intruders, 52 percent support allowing school districts to spend education funds on armed security guards to protect campuses, with 43 percent opposed to that.

Across party lines, 64 percent of registered Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of nonpartisan voters favor the armed-guards-in-schools idea. Also, 53 percent of women and 52 percent of men are in favor of arming guards, while 53 percent of parents and 53 percent of those without children favor it.

And 62 percent of Californians favor enacting a nationwide assault weapons ban (which the state already has), with 33 percent opposed.

“In the last several days, it’s become clear that passing an assault weapons ban in Congress will be extremely difficult,” Schnur said. “But in California, it would pass overwhelmingly. Right down the line, Californians have made it clear how strongly they support the idea of gun control.”

The poll found three-quarters of Californians favor and only 15 percent oppose a bill – SB 140 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco – that would use surplus funds from background check fees to provide more funding for California authorities to seize weapons owned by convicted felons and people with serious mental illness. California authorities have the power to do this, but staff shortages and funding cuts have curtailed law enforcement’s abilities to follow through.


    45 percent of California voters agreed more closely with the statement “now is the time to get serious about preventing gun violence,” and that it is too easy to for dangerous people to get military-style weapons designed to kill as many people as possible, putting our kids and police officers at risk. The statement continued, “We need more common-sense reforms that protect people from gun violence, including universal background checks and preventing the resale of guns to criminals.”
    46 percent of California voters agreed more closely that “California has the strictest gun laws on the books in the nation and now some are calling for even more gun control.” It continued that rather than targeting the Second Amendment and law-abiding citizens, we should enforce the gun laws already on the books and also focus on the underlying causes of violent acts, such as mental illness and violence in the media.

Asked their impression of the National Rifle Association, 46 percent of California residents said they had an unfavorable opinion of the organization; 41 percent said favorable. Asked their impression of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 47 percent said they had a favorable opinion, and 24 percent said unfavorable.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR senile columnist

    Gotta hand to the pollsters. Next thing they will ask: Do you favor clean air?

  • JohnW

    It’s an interesting way to frame the question: which is more important: protecting people from gun violence (assuming proposed laws would do that) or protecting Second Amendment rights?

    That got me to thinking. What if we had something like Sequestration for the Constitution, requiring that we downsize the Bill of Rights by 20 percent. In other words, we would have to dump two of the ten Amendments. I know, completely fictional scenario. But what if there were an opinion poll on that? How would the Second Amendment make out on that? Dumping just one Amendment would be an easy choice. Two or more, not so easy.

    I pose this because gun rights absolutists often speak of the Second Amendment as though it came from God and is the most important thing in the Constitution. But what if they had to give up something else in the Bill of Rights in order to keep the Second Amendment.

    Choices (pick two):

    Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly
    Gun rights
    No forced quartering of soldiers in your house
    Protection from unreasonable searches and seizures
    Right of due process of law; no double jeopardy or self-incrimination
    Right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury
    Right of trial by jury in certain civil suits
    Protection against excessive bail, fines and cruel and unusual punishment
    Rights of the people not enumerated in the Constitution
    Powers reserved to the States or to the people

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    @#2 Other than the one about quartering soldiers, the rest of the Constitution has pretty much been trampled.
    Starting with the “paid” press. Maybe you like the stories about people being tear gassed & beaten for protesting?

  • RR senile columnist

    Cousin Brucie: I love seeing Code Pinko types get busted (up)!

  • JohnW


    The “paid” press?

    Speaking of which, elements of the Tea Party are “boycotting” Fox News for, in their view, turning left.


    My favorite quote from the story: “We need Fox to turn right. We think this is a coverup (Benghazi) and Fox is aiding and abetting it. This is the way Hitler started taking over Germany by managing and manipulating the news media.”

    Those damn libs at Fox News!

  • JohnW


    Both the students and police at UC Davis exercised their First Amendment rights.

    The students exercised freedom of Assembly.

    The police exercised freedom of Expression, modeled after Occupy Oakland’s concept of free Expression.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Why doesn’t the corrupt media/politicians, carry on about suicides & depression? Many of the wimps who get big guns & wipe out people they don’t know, are suicidal.

  • RR senile columnist

    Cousin Brucie: The newsies in SF Bay Area go on and on about suicidal folks taking a dive off the GG bridge. It’s the onliest landmark in America that needs protection of that sort.

  • JohnW

    I don’t have the specifics, but I believe Josh’s great front page story on guns in Shasta County included some statistics about the higher rate of gun suicides that coincides with the higher rate of gun ownership. Josh’s entire series of articles about the gun debate has been superb.

  • Elwood

    @ John W #9

    Remember, correlation is not causation.

    Reason tells us that in areas with more guns more people will commit suicide with a gun.

    In areas with fewer guns, some of those who commit suicide will have to find other ways.

    The question is “Does ownership of a gun cause a greater percentage of the population to commit suicide?”

    Have other factors such as poverty, low education levels, stress etc. been evaluated in this calculation?

    In areas with lots of vehicles, more people will die in auto accidents.

    In areas with lots of lakes and waterways, more people will drown.

    And so on.


  • JohnW


    I’m always mindful of that, especially when politicians of both parties toss around statistics on economic policy issues.

    Not to sound cold-hearted, but suicides and domestic homicides involving guns are not my big concern.

    However, I think the answer to the question as you framed it is YES. Otherwise, your second sentence, “Reason tells us…” would be nonsensical. That sentence could be restated as, “It follows that, where there are more gun owners per capita, there will be more gun suicides per capita.” Not necessarily more suicides in general, but more gun suicides.

    As for causation, somebody somewhere has probably done a doctoral dissertation that included a regression analysis measuring the coefficient of correlation for all the variables you mentioned. When the correlation for one variable is especially strong compared with the others (in this case rate of gun ownership and rate of gun suicides), there is a strong probability of causation too. Either gun suicides cause a higher rate of gun ownership, or the other way around. Reason tells me it would be the latter.

  • Bruce R. Peterson, Lafayette

    Josh’s nice story did not mention alcohol & meth consumption rates in Redneck, Shasta County. There is usually a link to mixing guns with alcohol equaling disaster.

  • JohnW


    Good point.

    Interesting factoid: The last two Democratic presidential candidates to carry Shasta were George McGovern and Jimmy Carter.

    Josh’s story didn’t comment one way or the other about the linkage between the higher gun ownership rate and the higher gun suicide rate in Shasta. It just presented the raw data for us to interpret as we choose.