Gallup Confuses Terms in Poll Showing High Opposition to Assault Weapons Ban

57% still oppose new ban on AR-15s despite Gallup’s mixed use of terms

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October 22, 2018

A new poll shows opposition to a ban on so-called assault weapons is near an all-time high despite the confused terminology it used.

The Gallup poll of 1,019 adults, conducted between October 1 and 10, found 57 percent of respondents opposed to banning semiautomatic guns that a number of states define as "assault weapons." Opposition to such a ban increased by 6 points since Gallup last asked about it a year ago. Forty percent said they support a ban.

The numbers are nearly the exact opposite from when Gallup first asked the question in 1996 when 57 percent indicated support while 42 percent indicated opposition. Opposition to a ban was at its highest in 2016 when 61 percent said they opposed it and 36 percent said they supported it.

The partisan divide is prevalent in the results with 56 percent of Democrats supporting a ban, support from independents at 38 percent, and only 25 percent of Republicans. There was also a clear divide between gun owners and nonowners. Forty-six percent of households without firearms support a ban while only 33 percent of those with a gun do.

However, Gallup's decision to use the terms "semi-automatic gun," "assault rifle," and "assault weapon" interchangeably in their question and write up of the poll make the results of the polling less clear as those terms have markedly different meanings. Semiautomatic guns require the trigger to be depressed for each round fired. While statutes on what qualifies as an "assault weapon" vary in the handful of states that regulate them, they all pertain to semiautomatic-only guns but make up only a subset of all semiautomatic guns. "Assault rifles," on the other hand, are defined by the Defense Intelligence Agency as being capable of switching between semiautomatic fire and some form of fully automatic fire (otherwise known as selective-fire).

The specific question Gallup used in its poll includes a direct contradiction because it asked people if they would support a ban on "semi-automatic guns, known as assault rifles." Since "assault rifles" are not semiautomatic guns, the question is incoherent. The company's write up of the results further confuses the issue by declaring the results show "57% oppose banning semi-automatic guns; 40% favor a ban" and later describes the results as pertaining to "assault weapons."

The laws governing "semi-automatic guns," "assault weapons," and "assault rifles" vary greatly and Americans' views of those firearms likely do as well. "Semi-automatic guns" make up the vast majority of firearms owned by Americans and are legal to sell in all 50 states. "Assault weapons" generally include semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 or civilian AK-47 models but can also include some shotguns and handguns as well—they are banned in a handful of states like California and Massachusetts. New civilian sales of "assault rifles" are banned under federal law and only those registered before a certain date are able to be sold on the used market.

It's unclear why Gallup used the terms interchangeably or how much it effects the outcome of their poll.

Gallup did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Published under: Gallup , Guns