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Poll: Americans, Especially Young Ones, Say People "Should Be Allowed" to Own Assault Weapons

The recent Reason-Rupe poll finds a slim majority of Americans favor allowing private ownership of assault weapons, 44 percent say Americans should be prohibited from owning these types of firearms. Support is drawn down partisan lines with 68 percent of Republicans opposing an assault weapons ban and 62 percent of Democrats in support of such a ban. Independents tend to agree with Republicans with 57 to 37 percent.

Young Americans ages 18-24 are more supportive of private ownership of assault weapons with 70 percent saying Americans should be allowed to own assault weapons; 27 percent think they should be prohibited. In fact, majorities support allowing Americans to own assault weapons among those under 54. In contrast, older Americans believe assault weapons should be prohibited by a 23-point margin 58 percent to 36 percent.

Americans more familiar with firearms are also more likely to oppose prohibiting private ownership of assault weapons. For instance, 56 percent of Americans who say they personally have a firearm support private ownership. Support increases to 79 percent among Americans who both they and another member of their household own a firearm. In contrast, among households who do not own firearms, 55 percent believe assault weapons should be prohibited.

Wording Matters

These results are particularly surprising given that other national polls find majority support for federal bans of assault weapons. Even though the Reason-Rupe poll uses the same pollster as the Pew Research Center, asked a different way, Pew finds majority support for a ban on assault style weapons 55 to 40 percent. This suggests that question wording can significantly impact what considerations are brought to mind when respondents answer questions and thus impact their responses.

The following chart compares various question wording and subsequent responses for CNN/ORC, Gallup, ABC/Washington Post, AP/GfK, Fox News, Gallup/USAToday, and the Pew Research Center polls conducted within the past month. Some, but not all, of the questions finding majority support for an assault weapons ban explicitly prime respondents to consider the potential for a ban to curb gun violence. Others solely prime considerations of limiting access. In contrast, the Reason-Rupe wording ostensibly primed considerations of both limiting and allowing access. Plausibly, when respondents considered both prohibiting and allowing an activity this additional consideration bolstered support for private ownership of assault weapons. Regardless, response variability across polls demonstrates support for an assault weapons ban is not as clear cut as some may have previously thought.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted January 17th-21st 2013 interviewed 1000 adults on both mobile (500) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.8%. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full methodology can be found here. Full poll results found here.

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