As political Washington mulls what – if anything – to do legislatively to address the latest in a long line of mass murders committed with guns, a new Fox News poll has a number in it that is an absolute stunner.
That number is 67%, which reflects respondents who told pollsters that they support a ban on assault weapons. For you non-math majors out there, that’s two-thirds of the American public!
Yes, there is something of a partisan divide on the question – with 86% of Democrats favoring a ban on automatic and semiautomatic weapons, while 46% of Republicans feel the same. But look at it another way: On a proposal that is widely regarded in GOP congressional circles as a non-starter because it is going too far in limiting guns, self-identified Republicans are split right down the middle – 46% support, 46% oppose.
Among Republican women – one of the key swing voting blocs heading into 2020, a majority (54%) support an assault weapons ban, while just 36% oppose it. And even a majority of people in gun-owning households (53%) support an assault weapons ban.
There hasn’t been an assault weapons ban in place in the United States since the last one expired in 2004, after a decade on the books. Attempts to renew it in 2004 failed – due at least in part, to a heightened national security climate in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and a lack of urgency from the Bush White House.
President Barack Obama then pushed to renew the assault weapons ban during his term; it was offered as an amendment during the last major congressional debate over guns – back in 2013 in the aftermath of the murders of more than two dozen people, including 20 children, in Newtown, Connecticut.
The amendment to renew the assault weapons ban was rejected 60-40 by the Democratic-controlled Senate, with 14 Democratic senators voting against it.
Former Vice President Joe Biden – who was one of the lead sponsors of the 1994 crime bill that included the assault weapons ban – said in the wake of the back-to-back murders of at least 30 people in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that he will renew the ban if elected president in 2020.
Wrote Biden in a New York Times op-ed earlier this week:
“The 1994 assault weapons and high-capacity magazines bans worked.
“And if I am elected president, we’re going to pass them again — and this time, we’ll make them even stronger.”
Maybe. But there seems little chance that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) will allow anything so sweeping as an assault weapons ban to get a vote when Congress returns after Labor Day. Even expanded background checks, which 90% of the public (including 89% of self-identified Republicans) support in the new Fox poll, seems like a stretch.
All of that is to say this: The public is in a very different – and more pro-gun control – place than congressional Republicans. Will it matter? And if not, why not?