By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An overwhelming majority of U.S. gun owners, and Americans in general, support tougher measures to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill and others barred by law from possessing weapons, according to a new survey issued on Tuesday.
Eighty-one percent of gun owners, and 86 percent of all Americans, back requiring personal background checks for all firearms sales, regardless of whether the weapon is bought from a licensed dealer or from a private seller at a gun show, the poll said.
Ninety percent of those polled in both groups also support fixing gaps in government databases that are designed to prevent criminals, mentally disturbed people and others from obtaining guns.
The survey of 1,003 registered voters nationwide was conducted from January 11 through January 13 jointly by the Republican-aligned polling firm American Viewpoint and the Democratic-oriented firm Momentum Analysis, and released by the bipartisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
The Arizona shooting spree on January 8 that claimed six lives and left 13 others wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, renewed questions about the reliability of the U.S. system of background checks to keep dangerous people from buying guns.
Despite evidence that suspected Tucson gunman Jared Lee Loughner, 22, engaged in bizarre, disruptive behavior well before the shooting, police said he legally purchased the gun used in the attack from a sporting goods store.
Federal law bars possession of firearms by anyone found by a court or other legal authority to be a danger to themselves or others. Convicted felons, fugitives and people with a record of drug addiction also are banned from owning guns.
Background checks to screen out such people from buying guns are required at the time a weapon is purchased from a federally licensed dealer. But federal law and most states require no such checks for individuals who buy a firearm from private sellers at gun shows.
Experts say even when screenings are conducted, people with a history of mental disturbances often go undetected because they were never officially judged to be dangerously ill. Many states have also been slow in furnishing mental health records to a centralized FBI database used for background checks.
In addition to finding broad support for better sharing of data and closing loopholes in the screening process, the latest survey found the overwhelming majority of gun owners, and Americans overall, support the rights of law-abiding citizens to own handguns.
"Most Americans view these goals -- protecting rights for the law-abiding and keeping guns from criminals -- as compatible," American Viewpoint vice president Bob Carpenter said in a statement.
(Editing by Peter Bohan)