JENNIFER AGIESTA NANCY BENAC
---- — WASHINGTON (AP) — A New Jersey college student wants Congress to stand strong against tougher gun laws. A Colorado software executive thinks the federal government goes too far in protecting gun rights. A child-care worker in Wisconsin just wants the shootings in her city to stop.
Even as the debate over tightening national gun control laws is rekindled after the latest mass shooting, a growing number of Americans are questioning the government's stewardship of the right to bear arms, according to a poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Asked to size up how the government is doing on protecting a variety of rights and freedoms spelled out in the Bill of Rights and federal law, Americans pointed to slippage almost everywhere but most dramatically on the matters of guns and voting rights. The impression of a declining track record on guns rights turned up everywhere: among Republicans and Democrats, men and women, young and old, city dwellers and those in small towns.
Overall, 44 percent of Americans think the federal government is doing a good job of safeguarding the right to keep and bear arms, down from 57 percent two years earlier. Of course, not everyone wants the government to go all out to safeguard Second Amendment rights, and that affects how people assess the government's success at protecting the right.
Republicans and independents were far more likely than Democrats to give the government poor marks for protecting gun rights.
Among Republicans, 36 percent said the government was doing a good job protecting the right to bear arms, down from 51 percent two years ago. That compared with 56 percent of Democrats giving a good rating now, down from 64 percent two years ago. The slide was highest among independents, going from 52 percent giving a good rating in 2011 down to 25 percent in the latest poll.
The survey was conducted Aug. 12-29, prior to the mass shooting this week at the Washington Navy Yard that left 13 people dead, including the gunman.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Americans of all stripes spoke with sorrow about the latest deaths. But many opponents of gun control said tighter laws could make things worse, while those who support tighter laws said it was another sign that action is overdue.
Mike Kaplon, an accounting and economics student from Morristown, N.J., said gun-control advocates haven't made a good case that new laws would reduce gun violence. He decided to get active in opposing gun control after last year's mass shooting of first-graders at a school in Newtown, Conn.
"There's always going to be a nut job able to get a gun," said Kaplon, who identifies himself as a Republican-leaning libertarian. "It happens. It's life."
Walden Miller, a 57-year-old Democrat from Louisville, Colo., thinks the government is safeguarding Second Amendment rights a little too much.
"They are protecting the rights quite well," he said with a laugh. "I think there should be more control over the availability and licensing of guns — which is the opposite."
Laverne Hawkins, 60, a Democratic retiree in Milwaukee who does baby-sitting, was frustrated that President Barack Obama hadn't done more to stanch gun violence.
"I love the president, don't get me wrong, but I just don't feel like he's standing up like he should with getting all this violence straightened out," she said.
Obama made a big push for tighter gun laws after the Newtown shooting. But the legislation fell flat in Congress and has been stalled ever since.
After Monday's shooting at the Navy Yard, the president's spokesman said Obama remained committed to strengthening gun laws. But there was little expectation of movement in Congress.
The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. It involved landline and cellphone interviews in English or Spanish with 1,008 adults nationwide. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
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