Gun Control

Public Support for "Assault Weapon" Ban Hits All-Time Low

Past and present history give no reason to believe there'd be any public safety benefit to such a ban.


Last December, the most powerful print media voice on this here planet Earth (or so they believe), The New York Times, ran a nearly unprecedented front page editorial calling for a ban and buyback/confiscation of that ill-defined category of "assault rifle." (See my commentary at the time, "New York Times Calls for Immense Expense and Political Civil War To Maybe Possibly Hopefully Reduce Gun Violence by a Tiny Amount.")

The Times believed "Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens."

What effect did the Times's pulling out their biggest rhetorical weapon against those popular weapons have on popular opinion regarding such weapons?


Sorry, Times. A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month and released today finds "In U.S., Support for Assault Weapons Ban at Record Low."

The details:

The fewest Americans in 20 years favor making it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles. Thirty-six percent now want an assault weapons ban, down from 44% in 2012 and 57% when Gallup first asked the question in 1996….

Two years after President Bill Clinton signed a federal assault weapons ban in 1994, Gallup found that a solid majority of Americans favored such a ban. By the time the 10-year ban expired in 2004, Americans were evenly divided. And by 2011, public opinion had tilted against the assault weapons ban, with 53% opposed and 43% in favor. In Gallup's 2016 Crime poll, conducted Oct. 5-9, opposition now exceeds support by 25 percentage points, 61% to 36%.

This is certainly an example of common sense on voters' part, realizing that both the past (when we had for a decade a meaningless-in-stopping-crime ban on a set of such weapons) and the present (when as of 2014 such weapons are involved in fewer homicides than are bare hands and feet) give no weight to the notion that any public safety good would come from such a ban.

I had what many correspondents felt was the bad luck to have a book review appear in The American Conservative called "Gun Control RIP" right after the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting in 2012. (It was written before the shooting.) Surely, many told me, that vividly horrific public reminder that people can use guns to commit hideous crimes will mean that politically gun control is back in a big way, putting the lie to my review.

I stand by the review, for most of the reasons contained in it. 2012 had already been a year of many prominent and horrific public mass shootings; but as I wrote, "Americans have come to understand that such acts are still quite rare. More to the point, no imaginable public-policy solution will keep the occasional deranged criminal from doing evil with weapons."

Jesse Walker reported for Reason back in 2014 on how after spikes in public upset over guns after publicized shooting murders, the mean of support for gun control seems to be falling lately to lower averages than it had been before the spike.