Majority of Americans now oppose assault weapons ban

For the first time in nearly two decades most Americans don't support a ban on assault weapons, a new poll shows. 

Keith Srakocic/AP/File
For the first time in 20 years, a majority of Americans say they oppose banning assault weapons, according to a new poll from ABC News and The Washington Post

Most Americans are now opposed to a ban on so-called assault weapons – for the first time in 20 years, according to a new national poll from ABC News and The Washington Post. 

The poll released Wednesday shows that support for such a ban has fallen by nearly 50 percent since 1994.

Fifty-three percent of those surveyed oppose such a ban. Just 45 percent favor an assault weapons ban – down 11 percentage points from an ABC/Post poll in 2013 and down from a peak of 80 percent in 1994.

“The increase in opposition to banning assault weapons since 2013 peaks in some groups – up 18 points among strong conservatives, 17 points among higher-income earners and 16 points in the generally more liberal Northeast. But it’s a broadly based trend,” pollster Gary Langer notes.

According to the poll findings, just a few groups, including people identified as liberals, Democrats, women, African-Americans, and respondents older than 56 still support a ban.

While there is no legal definition of an assault weapon, the term is commonly understood to refer to military-style, semi-automatic rifles, often with pistol grips and detachable magazines.

The findings echo a poll by The  New York Times and CBS News released last week which found a majority of Americans are opposed to renewing an assault weapons ban for the first time in its 20 years of polling on the issue. According to the poll, 0nly 44 percent of Americans support the position, 50 percent oppose it.

These trends point to a shift away from the position favored by President Barack Obama and many other Americans who responded to the recent attack in San Bernardino, Calif., by calling for stricter gun control laws.

In a speech to the nation from the Oval Office earlier this month,  Obama said, “we also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino,” the president explained. “What we can do – and must do – is make it harder for them to kill.”

The New York Times also advocated gun control to reduce gun violence through its first front-page editorial in nearly a century, calling gun violence a “disgrace,” downplaying the possible terrorism motive, and calling for an elimination of military-style semi-automatic rifles like the ones used in the California attack.

A Gallup poll conducted last week shows that Americans are more worried about terrorist attacks than mass shootings. Those polled by ABC and The Washington Post are not confident in the ability of the government to stop a terrorist attack and they think that a better way to respond to terrorism is for people to legally carry more guns.   

“Among the roughly three-quarters of Americans who doubt the government’s ability to prevent a lone-wolf attack, 57 percent oppose banning assault weapons, vs. 41 percent in support. Those numbers are reversed among those who are more confident in government counterterrorism – 56 percent favor banning such weapons, while 42 percent are opposed,” Langer notes.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll surveyed 1,002 adults from Dec. 10 to 13 using live interviewers and reaching respondents through both landline and cell phones. The results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points.

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