Gun poll shows support for background checks in Pa. |

Gun poll shows support for background checks in Pa.

Jason Cato

Tony Williams owns guns but knows firsthand the damage they can do in the wrong hands.

When a gunman in August 2009 opened fire inside an LA Fitness gym in Collier, three people were killed and nine others were wounded, including Williams’ daughter, Melina.

He firmly supports a call for a federal law that would require all potential gun buyers to undergo background checks.

“It doesn’t even make sense not to do background checks,” said Williams, 56, of Collier. “Why would you want to put guns into the hands of a crazy person or a criminal? If it saves just one life …”

Williams is not alone, according to a recent poll from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

Results released last week show that while Pennsylvanians remain split over gun control in general, an overwhelming majority of respondents favored universal background checks — whether purchases are made in a store, at a gun show or between private individuals.

Those who favored new laws regulating gun ownership outnumbered those against such regulations, 55 percent to 42 percent.

When it comes to a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers, 88 percent said they would support such legislation.

The results did not surprise G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at the Lancaster college who has tracked gun control polls in Pennsylvania since 1991.

“We have a big hunting and fishing culture in this state,” said Madonna, noting that Pennsylvania is largely rural outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t support reasonable gun control.

“Hunters in the state largely have gone through the background-check process, I’m guessing.”

Neither the National Rifle Association nor the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association could be reached for comment.

Shira Goodman, executive director of Philadelphia-based gun control-advocacy group CeaseFire PA, called the poll results reassuring when it comes to support for universal background checks for all firearm purchases.

No such laws exist.

“I don’t think people realize you can buy guns without background checks,” Goodman said.

Laws currently require background checks for all firearms purchased through licensed dealers and for handguns sold privately.

Background checks for long guns, such as rifles, are not legally required. And exemptions exist for the transfer of firearms among certain immediate family members.

“There always is a way for someone intent to do harm to get a gun. But let’s not make it easy,” Goodman said. “These polls show we should be able to get some consensus around it.”

The Tribune-Review contacted several respondents to the poll, including Williams, who live in Western Pennsylvania. All said they support expanding background checks — even if they weren’t in total agreement about more gun control.

“I totally don’t believe in people having guns,” said Kathleen Molnar, 68, of East Franklin, which is near Kittanning. “I can’t help thinking life would be better if people didn’t have guns.”

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants the right to keep and bear arms.

That is sovereign for people such as Charles Orsborn, 71, of Renfrew, Butler County.

“If you read the Constitution, I don’t feel I need to say anything more,” said Orsborn, 71. “We reserve the right to have them.”

Yet he strongly agreed on widespread background checks.

“If somebody has had a mental problem for all their life, they shouldn’t have (a gun),” Orsborn said.

Francis Adamo said it is important to check who has access to guns because it is people who kill, not guns.

“It’s like security on an airplane,” said Francis Adamo, 68, of New Castle, Lawrence County. “You’ve got to put up with a little bit for your safety.”

Adamo said he has undergone such checks for weapons he owns.

“It’s not a hard process — if you’re on the right side of the gun laws,” he said.

The automated process can be swift, said Bob Pniewski, owner of Cloverleaf Gun & Sports Shop in Latrobe.

“It no longer takes three days. Generally, it happens within five minutes,” Pniewski said.

Cloverleaf charges $30 to conduct background checks for private sales. Expanding that program to check all potential buyers would not be burdensome, Pniewski said.

“The system works,” he said.

Williams said he believes in the system but said it can be better — by not only checking all potential buyers but also requiring checks on firearms owners every few years.

“One time isn’t going to do it all,” Williams said. “People change.”

The statewide poll surveyed 732 voters — 361 Democrats, 276 Republicans and 95 independents. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Jason Cato is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or [email protected].

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