Susan Page, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Four months after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a USA TODAY Poll finds support for a new gun-control law ebbing as prospects for passage on Capitol Hill seem to fade.
Americans are more narrowly divided on the issue than in recent months, and backing for a bill has slipped below 50%, the poll finds. By 49%-45%, those surveyed favor Congress passing a new gun-control law. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in early April, 55% had backed a stricter gun law, which was down from 61% in February.
The survey of 1,002 adults was taken Thursday through Sunday by Princeton Survey Research. The margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points.
Those who support a bill want advocates in Congress to hang tough and not compromise -- an attitude that also could complicate passing legislation. Sixty-one percent say members of Congress "should only agree to a stronger version of the bill, even if it might not pass." Just 30% say they should "accept a weaker law" they know can win approval.
"So much of the support for gun control is emotional, following the Newtown tragedy," says Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. The December shooting at the Connecticut school left 20 children and six educators dead. "The longer you get away from there, people start thinking of other issues. They start thinking about terrorism or jobs or immigration, and not surprisingly, then some of the momentum behind gun control starts to fade."
The Boston Marathon bombings last Monday also may have had an effect, he speculates. "It wouldn't be shocking if people sitting in their homes in Massachusetts cities and towns thought to themselves, 'Boy, I wish I had something to protect myself with if a terrorist came through the door now.'"
Last week in the Senate, a bipartisan proposal for expanding background checks for gun buyers failed to win the 60 votes needed.
Those surveyed who oppose a gun-control bill are split on whether senators who agree should use a filibuster to block debate: 44% back the idea of a filibuster; 41% oppose it.
On immigration, support for taking action is strong: 80% back "better border control" and 71% favor creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants now in the United States illegally, if they meet certain requirements. Just 25% oppose creating a process to gain citizenship.
Americans remain more concerned about tough enforcement, however. By 55%-33%, they say they place a higher priority on preventing illegal immigration in the future than on dealing with immigrants who already are in the U.S. illegally.