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Tucson shooting spotlights US shift on gun control

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Yet polls suggest that support for gun rights is not absolute. Even gun owners support certain gun-control measures, such as increasing the amount of information fed into the federal background-check database.

As it considers new gun-control measures post-Tucson, Congress is seeking to find where, exactly, that balance now lies.

Gun-support "polls have dipped a blip after Virginia Tech or Columbine, but the long-term trend is still one that's fundamentally moving toward less support for gun control and more support for gun rights," says Charles Franklin, a pollster at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Now, if you phrase questions about extreme forms of gun rights – automatic weapons or open carry – the support is shakier."

A recent poll, jointly conducted by Democratic polling firm Momentum Analysis and Republican firm American Viewpoint, points to where gun-control laws might be successful.

Some 85 percent of gun owners (and 89 percent of Americans) would endorse a bill to require background checks for all guns sold at gun shows. An even larger share of gun owners – 90 percent – would support a bill to beef up background-check databases to better prevent the mentally ill and drug abusers from buying guns.

Members of Congress seeking to increase gun control are similarly aiming at niche issues. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D) of New York wants to ban extended magazines – like the ones used in the Tucson shooting. Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York wants the federal background-check database to include people rejected by the military for drug use – a measure that would have prevented Tucson suspect Jared Lee Loughner from buying a gun legally.

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