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Most Republicans back right to arms

- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

Republicans remain a firearm-friendly group for the most part.

The majority - 51 percent - said the Second Amendment supports an individual's right to bear arms, compared to 41 percent of Democrats, according to a new Harris poll of 2,600 adults.

Additionally, 9 percent of the Republicans thought the amendment supports a state's right to form a militia compared to 22 percent of Democrats. A third of the Republicans and a quarter of Democrats said the amendment supports both individual and militia.

There's a more pronounced partisan divide when it comes to stricter gun control laws: 28 percent of Republicans would opt for tougher laws; the number is 68 percent among Democrats.

In the overall public, 41 percent said the amendment supports the right to bear arms while 17 percent agreed it's linked to a militia. Close to half - 49 percent - favored stricter gun laws, a number which has dropped considerably in the last decade. In 1998, a previous Harris survey found 69 percent favored stricter laws.

A Gallup poll released in late March found more emphatic findings about gun ownership.

A "solid majority of the U.S. public, 73 percent, believes the Second Amendment guarantees the rights of Americans to own guns. Twenty percent believe the amendment only guarantees the rights of state militia members to own guns," the survey of 1,016 adults said.

The issue is expected to become particularly piquant in the public arena in the next two weeks.

Before the end of its term on June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on gun rights in the case of "District of Columbia v. Heller," which addresses whether the District´s ban on handguns violates the Second Amendment. Specifically, the court will determine if the amendment provides an individual with the right to own a gun or whether it provides the state the ability to form a militia.

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," reads the words of the Second Amendment.

Though the court examined the amendment in a 1939 case, the exact meaning has never been hammered out. The June decision ultimately will constitute the first comprehensive review of gun rights in history - and potentially appear as a ballot box issue come November.

The presidential candidates "have not yet made any major policy statements concerning gun control, which is one reason why many respondents are unsure how they would handle the issue if elected," the Harris poll said.

The Harris poll of 2,600 adults was conducted online May 5 to 12.