A Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, the weapon believed to have been...

A Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, the weapon believed to have been used in the Newtown school shooting that claimed 26 lives, is shown in this file photo. (March 27, 2006) Credit: AP

Long Islanders overwhelmingly favor banning assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and armor-piercing bullets in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, according to a Newsday/Siena Research Institute poll.

Amid a national debate over increasing restrictions on assault weapons, the poll found that a large majority of Islanders believe controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting the rights of Americans to own guns. They also believe society has become more violent over the past decade, and fault television, movies and video games for abetting the violence.

But they oppose banning civilian ownership of handguns by 55 percent to 42 percent, and don't want armed guards in schools -- 53 percent to 44 percent.

Overall, Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute, said the survey shows widespread support for toughening of gun laws -- especially on assault weapons.

Nationally, Vice President Joe Biden is leading a gun violence task force and will deliver final recommendations to President Barack Obama by Tuesday. The proposals are expected to include a ban on assault weapons and restrictions on high-capacity magazines.

The poll found that Islanders made a distinction between handguns and semiautomatic weapons, such as the Bushmaster AR-15 used in the December mass shooting that killed 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school. A majority of residents don't think handguns should be banned and don't want the names and addresses of gun owners to be available in an easily accessible database.

The survey by telephone of 807 Island residents was conducted Jan. 3 and Jan. 6-9 as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators negotiated new, more restrictive gun laws. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Pushed by Cuomo, the gun proposals include tightening the definition of an assault weapon so that purchasers can't evade the state's current ban by buying a gun and certain accessories separately, and increasing penalties for the purchase and sale of illegal guns.

Senate Republicans have said they are open to changes, including reducing magazine capacity, though during last year's regular session they resisted Democrats' calls to change the assault-weapons laws.

"Long Island is a good test case for the question of: Is there enough public sentiment to move the State Senate?" Levy said.

All nine Long Island senators are Republicans -- but numerous sources have said upstate Republicans have the most concerns about the legislative proposals.


Ban on semiautomatics

In the survey, 67 percent of Long Islanders favored a federal ban on semiautomatic weapons, compared with 31 percent who opposed the move. Democrats favor a ban 74 percent-25 percent, and Republicans, 62 percent-35 percent.

Asked about New York's assault weapons ban, which Cuomo has said is riddled with loopholes, 74 percent favored "more restrictions" on such weapons and 5 percent wanted fewer. Eighty-two percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans support more. Most of the poll surveying was conducted before Cuomo unveiled his proposals Wednesday.

Seventy-two percent said high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds should be banned, which is one focus of the post-Newtown federal debate.

In 1994, Congress outlawed sales of magazines that held more than 10 bullets, but the ban lapsed in 2004. New York State currently has a 10-bullet limit. Cuomo and legislative leaders have been discussing lowering the maximum to seven rounds.

Susan Hills, 59, a retired registered nurse in Brookhaven hamlet, agreed with the majority on each of those survey questions.

"Although I have mixed feelings, I don't think the average citizen needs to own a gun," said Hills, one of the survey respondents who agreed to be interviewed. However, she wouldn't ban handguns.

By 64 percent to 32 percent, Islanders said limits on gun ownership were more important than protecting the rights of gun owners. Democrats took that view by 83 percent-15 percent, and Republicans support it 52 percent-43 percent.

Robert Reid, 49, of Baldwin, a police officer in a Nassau County village, agreed. "Controlling gun ownership is a bigger priority than the American right to own guns," he said.

But Robert Hayes, 58, a Ronkonkoma claims adjuster who is on disability, disagreed, saying he favors restrictions on semiautomatic weapons but opposes a ban. He said putting armed guards in schools would be a good thing, as would arming teachers.

"I know some teachers who already go armed," he said.


Arming teachers opposed

He's in the minority on both counts, since Islanders were against armed guards, 53 percent-44 percent, and opposed arming teachers, 69 percent-28 percent.

Other findings:

54 percent of the respondents said recent, high-profile shootings reflected "broader problems in American society," while 43 percent said these were "just the isolated acts of troubled individuals."

63 percent said society had become more violent over the last decade, while 25 percent said there was no change and 11 percent said less violent.

A slight majority -- 52 percent to 45 percent -- agreed with the position that television, movies, music and video games were in some way responsible for generating violence in society. Of those who thought media were an issue, 63 percent said video games were the "most responsible" for an increase in violence.

By 61 percent-36 percent, Islanders said the names and addresses of gun owners shouldn't be made available in a readily accessible database.

A lower Hudson Valley newspaper, the Journal News, put online the names and addresses of legal pistol owners in Westchester and Rockland counties. The newspaper obtained the data after the Newtown shootings under the state's open records laws.

The publication sparked a strong reaction from critics and defenders and threats against Journal News staffers. Since then, officials in Putnam County have refused the paper's request for records of its handgun owners, and two legislators from the area said they would seek to change the law to make pistol permit information confidential.

With Sid Cassese

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