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Poll: Voters Divided on Government Role in Gun Control, Access

by Carrie Dann /
In this Aug. 15, 2012 file photo, three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif. While the guns look similar, the bottom version is illegal in California because of its quick reload capabilities. Omar Mateen used an AR-15 that he purchased legally when he killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub over the weekend President Barack Obama and other gun control advocates have repeatedly called for reinstating a federal ban on semi-automatic assault weapons that expired in 2004, but have been thwarted by Republicans in Congress.
In this Aug. 15, 2012 file photo, three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif. While the guns look similar, the bottom version is illegal in California because of its quick reload capabilities. Omar Mateen used an AR-15 that he purchased legally when he killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub over the weekend President Barack Obama and other gun control advocates have repeatedly called for reinstating a federal ban on semi-automatic assault weapons that expired in 2004, but have been thwarted by Republicans in Congress.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

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With gun policy taking center stage on Capitol Hill in the aftermath of the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Americans still remain lukewarm to sweeping gun control compared to the mid-1990s, when public opinion propelled a 10-year assault weapons ban into law.

Fifty percent of voters say that they are concerned that the government will go too far in restricting the rights of citizens to own guns, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, while 47 percent said they were more concerned that authorities would not do enough to regulate access to firearms.

The margin is slightly closer than in December 2015, soon after the terror attack in San Bernardino, Calif. At that time, 52 percent of respondents worried about government overreach on gun reform, compared to 44 percent who expressed concern that gun policy would be too lax.

But in 1995, months after President Bill Clinton had signed a federal assault weapons ban into law, nearly six-in-ten voters – 58 percent -- worried that the government still would not do enough to regulate access to guns, while just 35 percent worried that the government would go too far.

Related: Is the NRA Losing its Grip on State Legislatures

A ban on the sale of the semi-automatic firearms referred to as assault weapons remains relatively popular, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, with 51 percent of voters supporting such a ban while 31 percent oppose it.

But in the early 1990s, three-quarters of Americans backed the proposal, which was passed into law in 1994 but expired ten years later.

What’s more, asked now how they would describe a proposal to ban the sale, voters are split on whether the ban would be worthwhile.

Forty-five percent said an assault weapons ban would be “worth it because it is one more step that could be done to try to reduce the number of casualties and save lives.” Forty-nine percent said such a policy is “NOT worth it because it will not stop the attackers from getting the weapons they need.”

The National Rifle Association, the gun lobby that has been pilloried by Democrats throughout the political debate over access to guns, continues to enjoy more positive than negative sentiments from voters. Forty-two percent reported a positive view of the NRA, while 36 percent gave the organization a thumbs down.

Sixty-seven percent of Republicans, 63 percent of rural voters and 50 percent of men offered a positive opinion of the NRA, while only 20 percent of Democrats, 32 percent of urban voters and 34 percent of women said the same.

The poll of 1000 registered voters was conducted June 19-23. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.

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