AN overwhelming majority of Americans, particularly whites, are adamant about the constitutional right to bear arms, a poll showed this week amid a rash of shootings across the US.

More than two thirds – 68 per cent – of respondents said the Second Amendment right is as important as other rights enshrined in the US Constitution, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, according to a survey published on Wednesday by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

About 75 percent of whites agreed, compared to 56 per cent of non-whites.

Americans were divided over gun control.

A slim majority of 52 per cent backed tougher gun control laws, against 44 per cent, but the differences were stark between different religious and political groups, races and gender.

Six in 10 Catholics and religiously unaffiliated Americans (62 and 60 per cent, respectively) said they favored more restrictions, compared to less than half of white evangelical Protestants (35 percent) and white mainline Protestants (42 percent).

White, non-Hispanic Americans, at 45 per cent, were far less supportive of gun control than no-whites (66 per cent), the poll found.

Still, there was broad public support against carrying concealed guns into a place of worship (76 per cent), a government building (73 per cent) or on a college campus (77 per cent).

Opinions differed among people with various religious and political beliefs. Nearly a third (32 per cent) of white evangelical Protestants, 27 per cent of white mainline Protestants, 18 per cent of the religiously unaffiliated and 14 percent of Catholics favored the right to bear arms in a place of worship.

As for political affiliations, those identifying with the conservative Tea Party movement supported allowing people to bring concealed guns to church at 55 per cent, followed by Republicans at 38 per cent, Independents at 17 per cent and Democrats at nine per cent.

Protestants were twice as likely as Catholics to favor being able to bring a gun into church, PRRI research director Daniel Cox said in a statement.

“White evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are also substantially more likely than Catholics to own guns,” Cox said.

The right to bear arms is a hot button issue in the US after a series of fatal shootings.

A gunman shot and killed six people in a Sikh Temple in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin early this month, just weeks after another assailant gunned down 12 people at a screening of Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” in Colorado.

Three in 10 Americans said stricter gun control was the most important measure to prevent shootings, while one in five (22 per cent) pointed to better detection of mental illness and 19 per cent put their trust in God and morality.

Still, 11 per cent said that allowing more citizens to bear arms was the best course of action, a view three times more likely among Tea Party members.

The survey was conducted between August 8 and 12 among 1006 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.