Tony Williams owns guns but knows firsthand the damage they can do in the wrong hands. When a gunman in August 2009 opened fire inside an LA Fitness gym in Collier, three people were killed and nine others were wounded, including Williams’ daughter, Melina. He firmly supports a call for a federal law that would require all potential gun buyers to undergo background checks. “It doesn’t even make sense not to do background checks,” said Williams, 56, of Collier. “Why would you want to put guns into the hands of a crazy person or a criminal? If it saves just one life …”
Williams is not alone, according to a recent poll from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. Results released last week show that while Pennsylvanians remain split over gun control in general, an overwhelming majority of respondents favored universal background checks — whether purchases are made in a store, at a gun show or between private individuals. Those who favored new laws regulating gun ownership outnumbered those against such regulations, 55 percent to 42 percent. When it comes to a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers, 88 percent said they would support such legislation.
The results did not surprise G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at the Lancaster college who has tracked gun control polls in Pennsylvania since 1991.“We have a big hunting and fishing culture in this state,” said Madonna, noting that Pennsylvania is largely rural outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t support reasonable gun control.
Shira Goodman, executive director of Philadelphia-based gun control-advocacy group CeaseFire PA, called the poll results reassuring when it comes to support for universal background checks for all firearm purchases. No such laws exist “I don’t think people realize you can buy guns without background checks,” Goodman said. Laws currently require background checks for all firearms purchased through licensed dealers and for handguns sold privately. Background checks for long guns, such as rifles, are not legally required. And exemptions exist for the transfer of firearms among certain immediate family members. “There always is a way for someone intent to do harm to get a gun. But let’s not make it easy,” Goodman said. “These polls show we should be able to get some consensus around it.”