Hand guns for sale are displayed at Peters Indoor Range & Gun Shop in Roseville, MIch. / Jessica J. Trevino, Gannett
WASHINGTON -- Many Michigan residents may be suspicious when asked in general about President Barack Obama's proposals for gun control, however, they appear to support the specific recommendations.
A poll by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, Mich. -- released exclusively to the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV, Detroit -- shows majority support among state residents for prohibiting the sale or possession of so-called assault weapons, banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring background checks for all firearm purchases.
Those are three of the top suggestions made by Obama last month in the wake of the December school shootings in Newtown, Conn. But when asked in general how they felt about "President Obama's proposed changes in national gun laws," 44% of respondents said they were opposed, compared with 42% who were in favor. Fourteen percent were undecided.
Taken together, those results suggest that when it comes to people's opinions about gun control and the Second Amendment right to bear arms, very little can be taken for granted.
For instance, Beverly Ballew, 59, of Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich., said while she could support increasing background checks, limiting certain high-capacity ammunition magazines and prohibiting access to anything that could fire rounds repeatedly with a single pull of the trigger, she remains suspicious of any proposals Obama puts forward.
"I don't trust him No.1," she said. "No. 2, I'm very supportive of the Second Amendment."
For the poll, EPIC-MRA surveyed 600 Michigan voters between Feb. 5-10. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Despite splitting over Obama's proposals, respondents supported banning high-capacity ammunition magazines by a 58%-38% margin and prohibiting the manufacture, possession or sale of "semi-automatic assault weapons, such as the AK-47 or the AR-15, 54%-43%.
The margin was even higher for requiring background checks for all gun sales - with 86% in favor compared with 12% opposed.
Rob Harris, the media director for Michigan Open Carry, a group which advocates the legality of unconcealed possession of firearms in public, said the results show how potentially misleading the issue - and the terms used in the debate - can be.
"Most people that you would come across in society today don't know what an assault weapon is," he said. "If you ask a general person, they're going to say it's a machine gun, and that's not the case. ... It's a scary word that scares a lot of people who are not in the know."
Steve Dulan, with the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, said many of the definitions applied in the gun debate have "been an attempt to mislead people on this issue."
"I don't think that's even in question," he said.
Unlike a fully automatic weapon - such as those used by the military and some law enforcement - a semi-automatic assault weapon still requires a shooter to pull the trigger to fire each round. So-called assault weapons typically don't require a shooter to manually load another round, and gun control advocates argue their military design is antithetical to sporting uses.
Proposing a return of the assault weapon ban that expired in 2004, Obama said last month that weapons such as the rifle used in a shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater last summer "when paired with high-capacity magazines" have "one purpose - to pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible."
"These military style weapons, there's no reason why anyone outside the military needs them," said David L. Garrett Jr., 68, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
With a doctorate in chemistry, Garrett - a retired chief materials engineer at General Motors and Delphi - said he has no problem with firearms for sport, but semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines should be banned. He doubts it will happen, though.
"With the Republicans in office (and holding the majority in the U.S. House), not a chance," he said.
The EPIC-MRA poll showed that while self-described Democrats broke by a better than two-to-one margin in favor of Obama's recommendations and Republicans by a more than two-to-one margin against, independent voters were split 40% in favor, 42% against. Slightly more than half of men - 52% - were opposed to Obama's proposals, compared with 38% in favor and 10% undecided; 45% of women were in favor, compared with 36% against and 19% undecided.
"I think it just shows that while Americans are united in their support for the Second Amendment it needs to go hand in hand with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals," said Zach Pohl, executive director of Progress Michigan, a liberal activist group.
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