The number of American citizens in favor of a ban on semi-automatic rifles, commonly referred to as “assault weapons,” has slumped to a record low. A recent Gallup poll found that when asked “Are you against a law which would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles?” just 36 percent of respondents wished to see such a ban imposed in the United States, down from 57 percent at the very first poll in 1996.
Although many anti-gun activists called for such a ban following the recent mass shootings involving these types of semi-automatic firearms, the spate of Islamic terror attacks in the U.S. and Europe may explain why more Americans believe owning “assault rifles” is necessary to ensure their safety. People are actually more likely to oppose restrictions on these weapons than ever before.
However, the majority of Americans still believe that legislation controlling the sale of firearms should be stricter. Gallup reports that the majority of Americans — 60 percent — say they are dissatisfied with the country’s current gun laws regarding the sale of firearms.
Two years after President Bill Clinton signed a federal ban on assault weapons in 1994, the Gallup poll showed that a clear majority of Americans were still in favor of it. In 2004, 55 percent of citizens who do not keep a firearm in the house supported the bill, but that number fell to 45 percent this year. Just 26 percent of citizens who do keep a firearm in the house now support it.
Opposition to a ban has traditionally tended to come from Republican voters; however, this year only 50 percent of Democrat voters said they would like to see such legislation enforced. Although Democrats typically dominate the group pushing for tighter gun legislation, their overall support for an assault weapons ban is surprisingly small, down 13 points from 63 percent in 1996.
The falling trend in the number of people favoring a ban closely resembles those who believe civilians should be allowed to own a handgun. In response to the question: “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?” just 28 percent of all participants answered “Yes, should be” — 10 percent fewer than in 1999.
Gallup researcher Art Swift suggests the increased support for assault weapon ownership could actually be a backlash against persistent calls from high profile politicians and the mainstream media to ban firearms, which typically occur every time there is a domestic mass shooting or terror attack. He also claims the reaction “may reflect growing apprehension that the government may infringe upon civil and personal liberties”.
The recent church shooting in Texas highlighted both sides of the argument. While the shooter did use an AR-15 “assault weapon,” he was stopped by Stephen Willeford using an AR-15 “personal defense weapon” despite the shooter wearing body armor. An interesting side not, firearms referred to as “assault weapons” when owned by civilians are referred to as “personal defense weapons” when purchased by the government for law enforcement agencies. When is a personal defense weapon an assault rifle? When you own it.
Tucker is a foreign correspondent and media analyst for Not Liberal.