WASHINGTON – As some new gun laws gain momentum in Congress, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is ramping up pressure on Philadelphia-area Republicans to support universal background checks.
Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns released district-by-district polls Tuesday morning showing overwhelming support for that step in each of the seven Philly-area House districts controlled by Republicans.
The support for universal background checks ranged from 100 percent reported in New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith’s district to 89 percent in Jon Runyan’s South Jersey district (voters in Frank LoBiondo’s Jersey district were at 95 percent support). In the Pennsylvania suburbs represented by Charlie Dent, Mike Fitzpatrick, Jim Gerlach and Pat Meehan support ranged from 90 to 96 percent.
The polls surveyed 400 voters in each district on several questions about guns.
Of course, the poll comes with a big grain of salt – it was commissioned by a group committed to tougher gun laws. But the numbers will become part of the political debate and match what independent pollsters have found: in January a Quinnipiac poll found that 95 percent of New Jersey voters and 96 percent in Pennsylvania favored more widespread background checks.
With district-specific numbers in hand, expect Bloomberg and other gun-control advocates to tout these figures and lean on local Republicans to support universal background checks as votes near. Our local House delegation, with its more moderate tendencies, will be a key to whether any gun bills can clear the Republican-controlled chamber.
The poll results speak “volumes about the changing public mood on guns,” said Mayors Against Illegal Guns pollster Doug Schoen. “This margin is unlike any I’ve seen on this issue, and it marks a real sea change. Voters want their elected officials to fight gun violence, and after Newtown, they’re demanding it.”
One hitch for advocates for tougher gun laws: while the vast majority of respondents said reducing gun violence was important to them, the issue fell behind the economy, federal budget and taxes when it came to ranking voters' biggest concerns.
Meehan and Fitzpatrick have publicly expressed openness to some tougher checks on gun buyers, though they have not specifically endorsed universal background checks.
That measure, though, is seen as the most likely one to make it through both houses of Congress. Even PA Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican who in the past has been an outspoken opponent of new gun laws, is said to be open to considering universal background checks.
Democrats and Republicans yesterday announced a bipartisan agreement on another measure that could get through both chambers: a bill to create a federal law against straw purchases in order to combat gun trafficking.
Meehan, a former federal prosecutor, is part of a bipartisan group sponsoring a smiliar plan in the House – where gun laws are expected to face the stiffest resistance. Anti-gun trafficking measures are a top priority for law enforcement.
It appears unlikely that an assault weapons ban will have the support to get through Congress and a ban on high-capacity clips faces increasingly difficult odds.