Fueling the Golden State's gun-control debate, a new statewide poll says a wide margin of California voters favor beefing up what already are among the country's toughest gun laws.
They back tighter controls and taxes on ammunition sales and outright bans on more weapons, according to the new Field Poll, and strongly reject training teachers to carry concealed weapons at schools.
In record numbers, California voters now say it's more important to put new controls on gun ownership than to protect Americans' rights to own guns, the poll says.
The findings amplify resurgent national support for gun control in the wake of last year's mass shootings in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. While the country debates adopting measures already on the books in California, most voters here are looking to Sacramento for even tighter restrictions.
"California compared to the rest of the nation is much more supportive of the gun control side," poll director Mark DiCamillo said Monday. "And it's not just that we have more Democrats in California. ... It's that the Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisans are all somewhat more supportive on the gun control side than they are nationally."
The poll, conducted Feb. 5-17, found California voters strongly support several specific gun-control measures proposed by the state Legislature and Congress. An overwhelming 83 percent of voters support providing more money for efforts to take guns away from convicted felons; 75 percent support requiring anyone buying ammunition to first get a permit and undergo a background check, none of which is required now; and 61 percent support putting higher taxes on ammunition, with proceeds going to violence prevention programs.
The 61 percent of California voters favoring more gun controls to the 34 percent more concerned with Second Amendment rights is a wider margin than the Field Poll has found in three previous surveys dating back to 1999.
Poll respondent Christine Williams said she favors "background checks on the front end but also not allowing people to stockpile things that lead to the potential for some kind of great tragedy."
"Think about what happened in Newtown, Conn., what happened at the movie theater in Colorado -- none of these things would've happened if we had much stricter gun laws across the country," said Williams, 28, an administrative assistant and Democrat from Palo Alto.
California already requires background checks for all firearms purchases and has banned the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and detachable magazines that hold more than 10 bullets -- all measures that some in Congress now want to impose nationwide.
Majorities of Californians still support these bans, the poll found: 58 percent support a ban on possessing large-capacity magazines, which goes further than the current ban on their manufacture and sale in the state. And 57 percent support a new bill in Sacramento that would add all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines to the state's assault weapons ban.
Significantly larger majorities of women than men support the proposed reforms. The partisan divide is sizeable, too: 80 percent of Democrats prioritize imposing greater controls on gun ownership, while 65 percent of Republicans feel it's more important to protect gun owners' rights.
Voters by a more than 2-1 margin rejected a Republican-authored proposal to let specially trained teachers or other personnel carry concealed weapons in school; women oppose that idea almost 4-1.
Chuck Michel, a civil rights attorney and California Rifle and Pistol Association spokesman, said the poll shows "a distinct preference for criminal control over gun control," in that proposals such as taking guns away from felons score high while banning certain kinds of guns has less support.
He also noted the poll lacked any questions testing the public's understanding of recent Supreme Court decisions protecting Second Amendment rights or about existing state and national laws.
"What 'controls' are they talking about 'adding' if they don't know what we have?" Michel asked, also noting support for gun control tends to spike after calamities and then declines as people start to see the disconnect between proposed laws and their intended goals.
Devina Deo, a 28-year-old Democrat, said her desire for new gun controls is rooted not in recent mass shootings but in her own Hayward childhood, where "wannabe gangsters" with firearms were all too common in and around her high school.
"It's always been something I thought was kind of strange, that there aren't more controls," said Deo, now a small-business owner pursuing a master's degree in advertising. "We're not in a war zone, so why do kids have guns?"
Robert Lewis of Oakland said he's OK with raising taxes on bullets if the money is spent on stricter enforcement of gun laws we already have, but he prioritizes Second Amendment rights above any new gun controls.
"You can't penalize the honest people for what the dishonest people are doing," said Lewis, 67, a retired security guard and sheet metal worker who's also a military police veteran. "That's what these gun controls would be doing.''