Most US gun owners - even current and former members of the National Rifle Association - support some firearms ownership restrictions including criminal background checks for prospective gun buyers, according to a poll commissioned by an anti-gun lobbying group.
The survey, conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz for the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, was carried out in May but was released on Tuesday in the aftermath of the Colorado movie theater shooting that killed 12 people last week.
The shootings in the Denver suburb of Aurora early on Friday have renewed the debate over gun control in a nation whose Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. Authorities have said the man arrested in the shootings was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a Glock .40-caliber handgun. All of the guns were purchased legally.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire backer of the mayors group, has said the incident should wake up the country to the need for tough restrictions on gun ownership.
Luntz said he polled 945 gun owners nationwide - half of whom were current or former members of the NRA, a gun rights group that takes a hard line against most firearms control measures, and half of whom were not affiliated with the NRA.
The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The survey did not provide results looking only at the responses by current NRA members.
Seventy-four percent of the current and former NRA members and 87 percent of the other gun owners supported criminal background checks of anyone purchasing a gun, according to the poll.
Seventy-nine percent of current and former NRA members and 80 percent of the other gun owners supported requiring gun retailers to perform background checks on all employees to ensure they are not felons, the poll found.
Poll respondents also favored eligibility requirements for obtaining concealed weapon permits, with 63 percent of current and former NRA members and 74 percent of the other gun owners agreeing that applicants must be at least 21 years old.
More than two-thirds of respondents from both groups said that permits to carry concealed weapons should not be allowed for people who had committed violent misdemeanors, such as assault, or those who have been arrested for domestic violence.
In addition, 71 percent of current or former NRA members and 80 percent of the other gun owners supported banning people on a terrorist watch list from purchasing guns.
The issue of gun control is controversial in the United States, with liberals generally supportive and conservatives in opposition. Gallup polls over the past two decades show the percentage of Americans who favor making gun control laws "more strict" fell from 78 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2010.
A Reuters-Ipsos poll in April found two of every three respondents had a favorable view of the NRA, which marshals thousands of activists to oppose even small-scale gun regulations and punish lawmakers who challenge them.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam declined to discuss the poll's findings. "Now is the time for families to grieve and for the community to heal. It's not an appropriate time to have political or policy discussions," Arulanandam said in a telephone interview.
But Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said in a statement, "The best way to honor the memory of those who senselessly lost their lives in Aurora is to make it harder for this to ever happen again. Our political leaders need to lead - and we demand they act now."
(Editing by Will Dunham)