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Poll shows ‘evolution’ among Utahns on gun control

Raising age to 21 for all gun purchases among proposals supported

More than 70% of Utah voters support requiring gun buyers to be at least 21 years old, according to the latest UtahPolicy.com poll that also found backing for universal background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
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SALT LAKE CITY — More than 70% of Utah voters support requiring gun buyers to be at least 21 years old, according to the latest UtahPolicy.com poll that also found backing for universal background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

So does Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian expect to see any restriction on guns to be approved by the 2020 Legislature?

“No,” Aposhian said. “No, I don’t think anything is going to pass.”

He was critical of the poll, saying, for example, that the question about the age limit for buying a gun didn’t state that federal law already prohibits anyone under 21 from purchasing a handgun from a licensed dealer, although 18-year-olds can buy handguns from a private party as well long guns, including semi-automatic rifles.

Eighteen-year-olds should have the ability to defend themselves since they’re old enough to go to war, Aposhian said, adding there isn’t “a pattern of 18-, 19- or 20-year-olds using firearms in an illegal manner” that would prompt re-examining the age limit.

“If Utahns say they really want these things, they’ll communicate with their individual representatives, not with some poll from what lately has become a left-leaning organization,” he said. “They’re depending on emotion to drive these answers. We look at data.”

But Gary Sackett, a member of the board of the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah, said residents of the state have become more focused on this issue following a spate of deadly mass shootings over the summer, including at a festival in Gilroy, California; a Walmart in El Paso, Texas; and an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio.

“The issues in general are getting more publicity, unfortunately and tragically,” Sackett said. “I think it’s starting to register with more and more people, even in conservative states like Utah.”

Whether that translates into action by the 2020 Legislature remains to be seen, he said. A number of gun-related bills are already being drafted, including another attempt at requiring universal background checks for gun buyers to close the loophole for private sales such as at gun shows.

Sackett said he’d like to think the poll could be a tipping point “where the Legislature would sit up and take notice,” but past experience has shown that lawmakers prefer to avoid the issue. Still, he said he expects more everyday Utahns to speak up during the legislative session that begins in late January.

Raising the legal age to own all firearms would help reduce gun violence, Sackett said.

“It makes a great deal of sense to us. The why is that younger people are simply less responsible than folks 21 and older,” he said, adding that the poll results suggest Utahns agree “it’s a good idea that you have to have a certain level of maturity to own guns.”

The poll conducted for the online political news source by Y2 Analytics found that 71% of Utahns — 48% strongly — said they support a 21-year-old age limit for gun purchases, while 20% were opposed and 9% said they neither support nor oppose the policy.

Women polled felt considerably more strongly than men about the age limit, with 88% of women supporting setting it at 21 compared to 68% of men. There was also a split between Republicans and Democrats, with 56% of self-described “strong” Republicans in favor compared to 91% of “strong” Democrats.

On other gun control issues, 56% of Utahns said they backed banning assault-style weapons and 59% high-capacity ammunition magazines, while 88% support background checks on all gun sales and 87%, preventing sales of all firearms to those reported as dangerous to law enforcement by a mental health provider.

At the same time, nearly three-quarters of Utah voters polled agreed it “would be possible to enact some kinds of new gun regulations while maintaining” the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and 70% agreed families and communities are responsible for solving the problem of mass shootings in the United States.

The poll was conducted from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2 of 1,044 registered Utah voters participating in the Utah Political Trends panel. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points overall, a margin of error that increases for gender and political subgroups.

UtahPolicy.com Publisher LaVarr Webb didn’t expect the strength of support for gun control that the poll found.

“There clearly has been an evolution, a change, in favor of stronger gun control nationally and here in Utah, to a level that actually does surprise me. I didn’t think it would be that strong,” he said, describing the poll questions as being formulated “as fairly as possible.”

That hasn’t stopped critics from surfacing, however.

“Obviously there are people out there with very strong feelings on these issues. We have been taking a beating on social media,” Webb said. A Republican who served under former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, Webb said he’s a gun owner who enjoys shooting and supports the Second Amendment.

Webb said he believes it will be difficult to get major changes passed by the Legislature next session.

“Despite the sentiment in favor of some of these proposals and the fact that everyone is thinking we need to do something, it really is difficult to find solutions that are meaningful and really make a difference,” he said, citing “people who are adamant in their support of owning and using firearms, and many of them are politically active.”