Support for Gun Control Drops as Sales Skyrocket

Gallup finds gun-control support plummeted by 7 points

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November 17, 2020

A new poll indicates support for stricter gun control laws fell significantly as Americans flocked to gun stores at a record pace in 2020.

Support for stricter gun laws fell by 7 percentage points from 2019, according to a poll released by Gallup on Monday. The drop comes as gun sales soar; 2020 has already set an all-time buying record with about 40 percent of sales going to first-time owners, according to industry estimates.

The combination of record gun sales and depressed support for gun control measures could signal trouble for potential actions by Joe Biden, who expressed support for a wide range of new restrictions during his presidential campaign. He advocated for a ban on online ammunition and gun sales, which skyrocketed during the pandemic, as well as expanded FBI background checks on private sales. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), publicly supported the confiscation of AR-15s and other firearms during her presidential run, while Biden embraced a ban on new sales of the popular firearms, as well as many common magazines.

J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said Biden's window to pass new gun laws may close before he is even sworn in.

"I can easily see Senate Republicans using these trends in public opinion—and the fact that many Americans have become gun owners in 2020—to justify prioritizing other legislation," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "This would definitely make it harder for the Biden administration to claim it has a mandate to push legislation on gun control."

The poll found the number of Americans with an appetite for new gun laws on a steady decline. Support fell to 57 percent, down from 64 percent in 2019 and 67 percent in 2018. The number of Americans saying gun laws should be kept the same rose by 6 points over the same period. Support for a handgun ban also fell back to near-record lows with 74 percent opposed to such restrictions.

Jacob D. Charles, executive director of Duke University's Center for Firearms Law, said the decline in support for new gun control is likely due to a number of factors—including increased gun ownership and the lack of recent high-profile mass shootings.

"New gun owners could be one component of decreasing support, but there are probably also others, including notably—as Gallup observes—the lack of high-profile public mass shootings that garnered sustained media attention," he said. "That attention tends to drive Americans to favor stricter laws and its absence could be a reason for deflated support."

Charles said political sorting played a role as well. He noted that while support for new gun control fell across all parties, the overall drop was driven primarily by Republicans.

"Partisan affiliation plays a key role in the overall decline, with Republicans dropping 14 points in support for stricter gun laws from a year ago and Democrats only slightly dipping," he said.

Charles said the polling indicates gun debates will remain polarizing and potentially deadlocked under a Biden administration.

"I suspect it will play out in partisan terms," he said. "A majority of Americans in the poll still favor stricter gun laws, so it doesn't seem that action on guns in general would generate public backlash, but with a likely opposition Senate, the sharp decline in Republican support for stricter gun laws will probably mean less incentive for Republican senators to come to the table and negotiate on new gun laws."

Coleman predicted Biden will not have the political capital needed to push through major gun control legislation, leaving a campaign promise unfulfilled.

"The overarching challenge that the Biden administration will face, at least in the near term, will be to contain COVID," Coleman said. "Given the likely composition of Congress, Biden may seem out of touch if he spends too much on political capital on an issue that won't garner enough support on the Hill."

Gun-rights advocates said a potential Biden administration push for new gun bans would inspire fierce opposition and undermine any attempt to unify the country.

"The Biden administration is going to find out that their laundry list of new firearms restrictions is going to have a record push back," Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, told the Free Beacon. "This is a fight that will be divisive and will not bring Americans together. It will lead to more polarization and undermine him."

Gallup's poll was conducted by phone between Sept. 30 and Oct. 15, with a random sample of 1,035 adults.