A poll conducted last week for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows 48 percent of registered Georgia voters favor a ban on assault-style rifles, with 47 percent opposed. (Special/John Amis)

AJC poll: Voters split on weapons ban, support anti-terrorism measures

Georgians are split on whether the U.S. should ban the sale of assault weapons, but they overwhelmingly support efforts aimed at stopping would-be terrorists from buying guns, a new poll for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found.

The poll, conducted last week, shows 48 percent of registered Georgia voters favor a ban on assault-style rifles, with 47 percent opposed. Five percent said they didn’t know. Men and women nearly reverse each other on the question, with 53 percent of women supporting a ban and 53 percent of men opposing it.

But Georgians clearly do not oppose guns in general. When asked whether they think more people should be encouraged to legally carry guns for self-defense, 57 percent said yes. A majority of women, 51 percent, agreed, along with 64 percent of men. Black voters, however, disagree: Nearly six in 10 oppose the idea.

Carrie Hodge, 32, of East Point is among those who believe the sale of assault weapons should be illegal.

“At this point, the country is headed in a really bad direction if it continues to neglect safety and gun laws and that sort of thing for too much longer,” said Hodge, who works in a call center. “I don’t think it should be so easy to buy a gun — assault weapons in particular — in this country.”

Yet Thomas Soyars, 55, of Cobb County said banning weapons or making it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves is contrary to the notion of public safety. Those who buy and own weapons legally are not the ones causing trouble, he said.

“That’s kind of a long-held belief for me,” said Soyars, an accountant. “I tend to be very conservative, and most of my political views are based on the Constitution and how the Founders originally wrote it. They wrote it to say you had the right to keep and bear arms.”

That’s not to say gun owners shouldn’t practice common sense, Soyars said.

“The criminals are armed and citizens aren’t,” he said. “Do I think people should walk around Perimeter Mall with an AR-15? No. Should they have the right to carry a concealed pistol? Yes. While the police are there to protect and serve, they can’t be everywhere. I try to respect rights for everybody.”

The question of whether assault weapons should be banned, and the larger discussion about gun ownership, has re-emerged this summer after Omar Mateen opened fire with a military-style rifle in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub in June. Fifty people died and an additional 53 were wounded. Mateen, who pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call, died in a gunbattle with police.

After the Orlando massacre, state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, announced plans to introduce legislation that would ban their sale in Georgia.

Mateen’s professed ties to the Islamic State as well as high-profile attacks around the world have made the war on terrorism a key issue in the race for president.

The AJC’s poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.29 percentage points, found Georgia voters give Republican Donald Trump a slight edge (48 percent to 45 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton) in being best at dealing with terrorism, while Clinton has a clear advantage (54 percent to 37 percent) on the handling of foreign affairs.

Gun control and terrorism became linked after it was reported that Mateen legally purchased his assault rifle despite the fact the FBI had investigated him previously for links to terror groups.

The poll found that voters in Georgia are also willing to go further to try to prevent terrorism, with 61 percent supporting increased surveillance of people suspected of having links to terrorism, even if it intrudes on the suspect’s privacy rights. An even stronger majority — 75 percent — support blocking people from buying guns if they appear on an FBI list of people with possible connections to terrorism.

Jill Jones, 59, of Forsyth County said it’s “counterproductive” not to place added restrictions on people placed on such lists.

“If you got yourself put in that position for some reason, it’s just not worth the threat to the welfare for the community,” said Jones, who owns a business that manufactures bath and body products.

But Angela Long, a Whitfield County instructional designer, said preventing someone from buying a gun won’t necessarily stop them from killing.

“I’m a firm believer that if a criminal wants to commit some kind of violent offense, they will find a time and a way to do it,” said Long, 37. “Whether it’s a truck full of fertilizer or a plastic knife on a plane or a truck in a crowd in France. If people have evil in their heart, they act on it.”

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Staff writers Dan Chapman and Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

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