Tuesday March 05, 2013 | 01:16 PM

WASHINGTON – A poll released Tuesday by gun control advocates said 85 percent of Maine respondents support mandatory background checks on all gun sales but a smaller majority believe new, “reasonable” laws are needed to reduce gun violence.

While the results were touted by Mayors Against Illegal Guns as evidence of overwhelming support for a universal background check system, in many ways the month-old poll helps illustrate the challenge facing such groups as they campaign for stronger gun laws.

The survey of 800 likely voters -- conducted for Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- found that 68 percent of respondents supported “stronger gun violence prevention laws to keep illegal guns out of the wrong hands.” But the percentage of those backing new, “reasonable gun laws” dropped to 55 percent when participants were also given the option of enforcing existing gun laws. Forty-two percent of respondents favored enforcement of current laws.

The largest gap came in response to questions on background checks, with 85 percent saying the strongly or somewhat favored mandatory checks on all buyers, “no matter where they buy the gun and no matter whom they buy it from.” The same percentage also agreed with the statement that background checks “are a responsibility that comes with our Second Amendment right to bear arms.”

The poll was conducted by Schoen LLC – a firm run by Democratic campaign consultant Douglas Schoen – between Jan. 29 and Feb. 1. Schoen LLC reported that 41 percent of respondents self-identified themselves as independents, 32 percent as Democrats and 27 percent as Republicans, which roughly mirrors the mix of political party affiliations in Maine.

“That 85 percent of Maine residents want every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check speaks volumes about the changing public mood on guns,” Schoen said in a statement. “This margin is unlike any I’ve seen on this issue, and it marks a real sea change.  Voters want their elected officials to fightgun violence, and after Newtown, they’re demanding it.”

Mayors Against Illegal Guns conducted polling in 60 congressional districts or states nationwide. While the firm did not say, it's likely that many of those areas are home to lawmakers viewed as key or swing votes.

In Maine, both Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King have been the targets of ads intent on swaying them to one side or the other in the debate. U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-District 2, is generally considered a pro-gun Democrat.

Congress is currently debating legislation to require mandatory background checks on all gun sales. But while the proposal has bipartisan support, organizations such as the National Rifle Association have opposed universal background checks.

Under current federal law, only licensed firearms dealers are required to run the potential buyer through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. While some states also require background checks on all private, person-to-person sales, Maine and many other states do not.




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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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