Fewer than 1 in 10 New Jerseyans say they are not all that worried about the amount of violent gun encounters in the United States in recent years, but the latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll finds party lines divide how residents think the issue can be fixed.

Seventy-two percent of respondents in the survey conducted in conjunction with the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center said they are "very concerned," and another 20% are "somewhat concerned."

But in an extrapolation of longtime legislative deadlock and inaction, Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling director Ashley Koning said the poll reached no clear consensus on a solution.

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"What exactly to do about it is where it becomes a little more complicated," Koning said. "Over half of New Jerseyans think that federal laws on firearm ownership should be stricter, but of course Republicans have mixed feelings on that."

'Control' a divisive buzzword

According to Koning, much of the disagreement hinged on the use of the term "gun control" itself.

One phrasing of such a question found 46% of residents felt controlling gun ownership was more important than protecting rights to that ownership, while 30% saw things the other way around.

"Since it's such a stigmatized, loaded, and politically charged term, when we rephrased 'gun control' to talk about policies that limit access, and talking about requirements in terms of firearm storage, preferences for this option slightly increased," Koning said.

Under that redefinition, the 46%-30% figure adjusted to 50%-27%, according to the poll.

About 2 out of 10 respondents felt both concerns were equally valid.

"This is obviously a very politically charged issue, and an issue that has a lot of emotion behind it," Koning said. "And so the words we choose in discussing these issues definitely matter."

More mental health care is needed

While opinions varied on the primary cause of gun violence, the highest number of survey participants (24%) went with mental health and lack of government investment in care and treatment.

In the context of stopping school shootings, a wide majority said increased mental health funding would be either extremely (54%) or substantially (14%) helpful.

"All of them see that as one of the top causes when it comes to gun violence, so perhaps something that Democrats, Republicans, and independents can coalesce around," Koning said.

The poll was taken in mid- to late July, about two months after the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas and a little more than a month before the beginning of the academic year in New Jersey.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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