According to the poll results, half of all Vermonters have a gun in their households, and most people surveyed said they favor stricter controls on the sale and use of firearms.
Among the findings:
84 percent favor requiring strict reporting from mental-health professionals to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS).
75 percent favor closing the so-called "gun show loophole."
66 percent favor banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines.
61 percent favor banning further sale of assault weapons.
54 percent favor making it illegal to own an assault rifle.
Even among gun owners, there's majority support for gun-control measures: 88 percent of Vermont gun owners surveyed favor requiring mental health professionals to report NICS; 71 percent back closing the gun show loophole; and 55 percent favor banning the sale of high-capacity ammo clips. Also, 50 percent of gun owners favor banning further sales of assault weapons. On the question of making it illegal to own assault weapons, though, only 40 percent of gun owners favored that.
Republicans, not surprisingly, were less supportive of proposed gun-control measures than Democrats: While 61 percent of GOPers favor closing the gun show loophole, a majority of R's oppose banning further sale of assault weapons or making them illegal outright. Only 45 percent favor bannnig the sale of high-capacity ammo clips. However, 86 percent of Republicans favor mandatory reporting to the NICS.
Historically, Vermonters have positively loved guns, and looked unkindly upon those who sought to place even the most modest restrictions on their Second Amendment rights. Indeed, another gun rights rally is scheduled for the Statehouse this Saturday — the second one since lawmakers returned to Montpelier armed with bills addressing the sale and safe storage of firearms and ammunition.
So what the heck changed? It wasn't Sandy Hook — at least not according to the Castleton poll.
Only 19 percent of respondents said the mass shooting at the Newtown, Conn., elementary school changed their views about gun control. Overall, 79 percent said their views were unchanged after the massacre. Of those whose views had changed, however, 90 percent said they were more likely to support gun-control measures, while only 6 percent said they were less likely to support them.
The Castleton poll surveyed 620 Vermont residents by phone between February 6 and February 17, and the margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percent.
Poll director Rich Clark said the results show something noteworthy: that Vermonters are divided on the gun question more by ideology than by self-interest. In other words, gun owners and non-gun owners are closer on many of the questions than are Republicans and Democrats.
What the poll doesn't measure, Clark said, is the "intensity of attitude."
"You could walk with the idea that people who favor more gun-control measures are in an overwhelming majority," Clark said. "But if I were to be hired by a campaign — I don't work for campaigns, I won't work for campaigns — but abstractly if I were, I would not suggest this as an issue to run on. Because I believe people who are opposed just have a higher intensity level around the issue."
Numerous bills addressing gun-control and safety are in play at the Statehouse. Another that would have banned assault weapons — sponsored by state Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) — was withdrawn for lack of support.
Clark added a cautionary note about the term "gun owner." His poll asked respondents whether they or someone in their household owned a firearm of some type. He said Gallup and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control identify gun owners the same way in their surveys.
"So we may be talking to a household member who doesn't go out and shoot regularly but they have a gun in the house," Clark said.