A majority of Americans oppose banning assault weapons for the first time in more than 20 years of ABC News/Washington Post polls, with the public expressing vast doubt that the authorities can prevent “lone wolf” terrorist attacks and a substantial sense that armed citizens can help.
Just 45 percent in this national survey 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. Fifty-three percent oppose such a ban, the most on record.
Indeed, while the division is a close one, Americans by 47-42 percent think that encouraging more people to carry guns legally is a better response to terrorism than enacting stricter gun control laws. Divisions across groups are vast, underscoring the nation’s gulf on gun issues.
There’s lopsided agreement on another concern: Just 22 percent express confidence in the government’s ability to prevent lone-wolf terrorist attacks, with 77 percent skeptical about it. Confidence in the government’s ability to stop a large-scale organized terrorist attack is much higher, albeit still well short of a majority -– 43 percent.
Personal fears about being victimized by a terrorist attack is not up –- it’s 42 percent now, vs. 49 percent in a Gallup poll last summer. But views on the government’s limitations, and on arming citizens, relate strongly to attitudes on banning assault weapons. Consider:
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.
The split is even more striking between those who see stricter gun control as the better way to fight terrorism, vs. “encouraging more people to carry guns legally.” The former group divides 71-26 percent in favor of banning assault weapons. The latter group splits 22-77 percent, support-oppose.
The results of this survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, point to a shift away from the position favored by Barack Obama and others who responded to the recent attack in San Bernadino, California, by calling for stricter gun control measures. Notably, in a statistical analysis, Obama’s overall job approval rating is the single strongest factor in views on an assault weapons ban.
The president’s approval rating, as it happens, is not in great shape: 45 percent, down 6 points from October to match its low for the year, with 51 percent disapproving. He continues to get an even split on the economy, but 53 percent disapprove of his handling of the threat of terrorism, near his career high last month, and 59 percent disapprove of his handling specifically of the Islamic State terrorist group.