Few Americans think tougher gun laws could make a difference in situations like the sniper attacks in the area around Washington D.C.

The latest FOX News poll conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation found that most Americans are doubtful that tougher guns laws would help stop these kinds of acts, with 76 percent saying people like the serial sniper(s) will always find ways around gun laws. Only 14 percent say tougher gun laws can stop acts like the sniper shootings from happening.

While there are no significant gender differences, Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to think tougher laws would make a difference (21 percent to 9 percent).

For more than two weeks, news coverage has been filled with live reports and press conferences on the serial sniper shootings. More Americans characterize this coverage as being sensationalized rather than responsible (52 percent to 36 percent). In addition, two-thirds think the extensive nature of the media coverage was more likely to encourage the sniper (67 percent) than to help the police (16 percent).

"It appears that many people have been turned off by the wall-to-wall sniper coverage," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "Of course, the media would probably receive the same level of criticism if they 'covered-up' the situation by not reporting the incidents in detail. I think in many ways people are reacting not so much against the coverage, but against the feelings of insecurity and horror that the coverage legitimately provoked."

While opinion of the shooting coverage is less than favorable, law enforcement gets positive marks. Fully 79 percent think the police and other law enforcement officials are doing a good job handling the sniper case (8 percent say bad job).

Concern about the sniper attacks is high, but ranks below concern over terrorist attacks and the nation’s economy. Almost half of the public (48 percent) says they are "very concerned" about the sniper attacks, compared to 53 percent about terrorist attacks and 58 percent the economy. Forty-two percent say they are "very concerned" about the stock market, while one-third expresses the same level of concern about smallpox attacks.

The poll shows a majority believes in the basic right of Americans to own a gun. Fifty-six percent say all U.S. citizens have the right to own a gun, 30 percent say no (12 percent "depends").

Opinion of the National Rifle Association is divided with 44 percent having a favorable opinion of the organization and 39 percent unfavorable. As would be expected, gun owners have a more positive view. Sixty-two percent of those who live in gun households have a favorable opinion of the NRA (24 percent unfavorable).

Nationally gun ownership remains steady. Just over 4 in 10 Americans say someone in their household owns a gun, and about twice as many say the gun is used more for hunting or sport (46 percent) than for personal protection (24 percent). There are major gender and regional differences in gun ownership. Men, Republicans, and people living in the Southern region of the country are the most likely to say someone in their house owns a gun.

Of those living in non-gun households, eight percent say they have considered buying a gun since the sniper attacks began earlier this month.

Polling was conducted by telephone October 22-23, 2002 in the evenings. The sample is 900 likely voters nationwide with a margin of error of ±3 percentage points. LV = likely voters, RV = registered voters

1. I'm going to read the names of some people and groups. Please tell me whether you have a generally favorable or unfavorable opinion of each. If you've never heard of one, please just say so. (RANDOMIZE)
SCALE: 1. Favorable 2. Unfavorable 3. (Not sure) 4. Never heard of

The

National Rifle Association

    Favorable Unfavorable Can't say Never heard
22-23 Oct 02 LV   44% 39 16 1
  Gun Owners 62% 24 13 1
22-23 Mar 00 RV   43 35 22 -
  Gun Owners 61 21 18 -

2. Do you think all U.S. citizens

have the right to purchase and own a gun?

1. Yes 56%
2. No 30
3. (Depends/not criminals) 12
4. (Not sure) 2

Compare to: Do you think every U.S. citizen has the right to purchase and own a gun? (4-5 Dec 96 RV)

1. Yes 40%
2. No 45
3. (Depends/not criminals) 12
4. (Not sure) 3

3. How concerned are you about each of the following?
SCALE: 1. Very concerned 2. Somewhat concerned 3. Not very concerned 4. Not at all concerned 5. (Not sure)

  Very Somewhat Not very Not (NS)
Terrorist attacks 53% 35 8 3 1
Sniper attacks 48% 28 16 7 1
Smallpox attacks by terrorists 33% 35 21 9 2
The nation's economy 58% 32 7 2 1
The stock market 42% 33 14 7 4

4. Do you think tougher gun laws can stop things like the sniper shootings in the Washington, DC area, or do you think the people who commit these kinds of acts will always find ways around tougher laws?
SCALE: 1. Tougher laws can stop acts 2. People will always find ways around laws 3.

(Laws help, but still find ways) 4. (Not sure)

  Tough Laws Stop People Find Ways (Laws help) (Not sure)
All 14% 76 7 3
Gun Owners 7% 87 3 3

5. Do you think the police

and other law enforcement officials are doing a good job or a bad job handling the sniper case?

1. Good job 79%
2. Bad job 8
3. (Not sure) 13

6. How likely do you think it is that the sniper shootings in the Washington, DC area are connected to Al Qaeda or another organized terrorist group?

1. Very likely 16%
2. Somewhat likely 23
3. Not very likely 24
4. Not at all likely 26
5. (Not sure) 11

7. Do you think the news coverage about the sniper shootings has been responsible or sensationalized?

1. Responsible 36%
2. Sensationalized 52
3. (Not sure) 12

8. Do you think the extensive media coverage of the sniper shootings does more to help the police or more to encourage the sniper?

1. Helps police 16%
2. Encourages sniper 67
3. (Not sure) 17

9. Does anyone in your household own a gun?

  Yes No (Not sure/Refused)
22-23 Oct 02 LV 45% 52 3
22-23 Mar 00 RV 45% 53 2
19-20 May 99 RV 48% 50 2
5-6 May 99 RV 42% 56 2

10. (If yes) Do you own your gun more for:

1. Hunting, 36%
2. Sport shooting, or 10
3. Personal protection? 24
4. (Not sure) 4
5. (Combination) 26

11. (If no) Have you considered buying a gun since the sniper attacks in the Washington area began?

1. Yes 8%
2. No 91
3. (Not sure/Refused) 1