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Most Gun Dealers Support Expanded Background Checks, Survey Says

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Gina Brewer, the manager Texas Gun, near the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. | Getty

A majority of gun dealers support expanded background checks, according to a survey.

Though enhanced checks on potential gun buyers may reduce sales, retailers who responded to the survey revealed near unanimous support for denying gun purchases based on prior convictions, mental illness or a history of alcohol or drug abuse.

The survey was conducted by the University of California, Davis, Violence Prevention Research Program. The researchers released this week the survey's third report, which will be published in the coming weeks in the Journal of Urban Health.

Using retailer-specific sales data from the FBI, the survey authors identified 9,720 dealers, pawnbrokers and gunsmiths across 43 states who sold 50 or more firearms per year. The FBI didn't have the data for seven states. From that list, surveys were mailed to 1,601 randomly-selected gun sellers, whose response rate was 36.9 percent.

The authors said they believe the survey is the first to gather gun dealers' views on federal gun policy.

The survey found that 55.4 percent of respondents supported expanding comprehensive background checks to gun shows, the Internet and all private transfers.

"Retailers are well aware and concerned that prohibited persons, those with criminal intent and persons at high risk of committing crimes, can readily acquire firearms under current conditions," Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program and author of the survey, said in a statement.

The survey was conducted in 2011, prior to mass shootings in Aurora, Colo.; Oak Creek, Wis.; Newtown, Conn.; and the Washington Navy Yard, Wintemute pointed out. "Levels of concern may now be higher among firearm retailers, as they are among the public in general," he said.

Gun dealers said they supported these reasons for denying gun sales based on background checks:

Existing criteria:
• Armed robbery: 99.3 percent
• Aggravated assault, involving a lethal weapon or serious injury: 99.1 percent
• Assault and battery on an intimate partner/ domestic violence: 79.6 percent

Proposed criteria:
• Serious mental illness, with a history of violence: 98.9 percent
• Serious mental illness, with a history of alcohol or drug abuse: 97.4 percent
• Serious mental illness, but no violence or alcohol or drug abuse: 91.2 percent
• Alcohol abuse, with repeated cases of alcohol-related violence: 90.1 percent
• Publicly displaying a firearm in a threatening manner: 84.8 percent
• Possession of equipment for illegal drug use: 80.7 percent
• Alcohol abuse, with repeated cases driving under the influence or similar offenses: 70.7 percent
• Assault/battery, not involving a lethal weapon or serious injury: 67.4 percent
• Resisting arrest: 53.1 percent

In April, Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate voted against legislation calling for expanded background checks, despite backing by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and people whose loved ones had been killed by gunfire.

Most polls this year have found that about 80 percent of Americans support expanded background checks. About 74 percent of National Rifle Association members support expanded background checks for all gun purchases, a position that the NRA has stridently opposed.

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