Poll: Majority of Pennsylvanians support additional regulations on gun ownership
Retired steelworker Arthur Flowers of Derry Township is among thousands of Pennsylvanians who have a license to carry a concealed handgun.
But he’s also among nearly two-thirds of registered voters in a recent statewide poll who said they favor some type of additional laws regulating gun ownership.
A Franklin & Marshall College poll of 627 registered voters across Pennsylvania was conducted July 29-Aug. 4, with the final calls going out just as the nation was learning of the mass shootings that left 31 people dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
The poll also found:
• 37% of voters said President Trump is doing a good or excellent job.
• 34% believe the nation is headed in the right direction.
• 61% said the state’s property tax system needs a fundamental overhaul.
• 38% would like to see the state rely on so-called sin taxes on gambling, tobacco and alcohol to raise more revenue.
Although some of the final participants in the poll may have heard of the latest mass shootings before they were called, it did little to change the face of public opinion. Four prior polls, taken between August 2018 and March 2019 all found anywhere from 62% to 65% of those questioned favored additional laws to regulate gun ownership.
Two-thirds of those questioned in the recent poll, which had a 6% margin of error, said they were not gun owners. But gun ownership did not guarantee opposition to additional regulations. The poll did not specify what type of regulations, only that participants would support or oppose additional regulations on gun ownership.
Flowers, a Democrat, said he’s not sure exactly what kind of requirement would enhance public safety, but said his biggest concern centers around arming people who have a propensity toward violence.
“They do the background checks here, and I think it is a good thing. But I do think one of things we ought to do is give people some kind of an aptitude test to measure anger control. You have to have some control of yourself to own a gun,” he said.
Cynthia Kuester, 58, of Harrisburg, shared those concerns. Like Flowers, the retired food truck owner is also a gun owner and said she would not hesitate to protect herself.
“I want guns. I just don’t want the mentally ill and kids and people who don’t belong in the United States to have them,” said Kuester, a registered Republican.
Her comments align with those of President Trump. He said mental illness and hatred fueled the recent shootings as he called for laws to make it easier to commit those with mental illness and advocated for so-called red flag laws that would allow the courts to seize weapons from those deemed dangerous.
In addition to gun laws, the recent poll suggested Pennsylvanians have reservations about the state’s commitment to serving the mentally ill. About two-thirds of those polled—65%— said the state spends too little on mental health treatment.
Even so, a majority of those questioned—51%— said Pennsylvania is moving in the right direction.
Adam Oakley, a 30-year-old computer programmer from rural Susquehanna County, said living 20 miles from the New York state line has shown him just how good he has it here. The registered Republican was among those who said Pennsylvania was moving in the right direction. He was also among the 61 percent who said the nation is moving in the wrong direction.
“We just had a baby, and we had a home birth. We wouldn’t have been able to do that in New York because of all the regulations on midwives. We have more freedom, more liberty in Pennsylvania,” Oakley said. “Pennsylvania is headed in a pretty good direction. But I think the nation is going in a bad direction because states like New York with all their regulations are dominating the country.”
Carol McConnell, 74, of Bethel Park, Allegheny County, likewise likes the direction Pennsylvania has taken in recent years.
“I think (Gov. Tom) Wolf is doing a good job. I think our taxes are OK,” said McConnell, a retired detective who previously did loss prevention work for a private company.
Political scientist and poll director G. Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College said he wasn’t surprised to see Pennsylvania’s positive numbers, which had fallen as low as 21% in polls in 2016.
Madonna has been asking poll participants to rank the state’s direction for years. He said responses are cyclical.
“It relates to the economy and the level of bickering and fighting in Harrisburg. The fact is the economy is up and there hasn’t been the same type of bickering in Harrisburg that we’ve seen some years,” he said.
Back in Bethel Park, McConnell is among the minority of poll respondents who say the nation is moving in the right direction. She said voters should give the president a chance to govern.
“Trump, love him or hate him, I think the country is doing OK,” she said. “And if he’d keep his mouth shut we’d be OK. He’s his own worst enemy.”
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .