The new Reason-Rupe poll presents pundits with a cornucopia of riches, and not just on the topic of guns. The survey of general-population adults includes a broad range of topics, including the priorities of issues for Americans at the start of 2013. It might surprise many in the media that gun control/gun violence is still only the top issue for just 3% of Americans, for instance, while 29% believe Barack Obama should be focused on the economy, 19% on jobs, and 13% on the federal budget deficit and spending issues. (After today’s GDP number, those numbers may sharply rise, too.)
The big takeaways on guns, though, are that people don’t really want another assault-weapons ban and overwhelming don’t believe it would have made a difference in the recent shootings:
As Jacob Sullum mentioned in his column this morning, Reason-Rupe finds that over half, 51 percent, of Americans say people “should be allowed to own assault weapons,” while 44 percent say people “should be prohibited from owning assault weapons.” Once again there is a substantial political divide: 68 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents say assault weapons should be allowed. However, just 33 percent of Democrats agree.
Democrats, who normally count on the youth vote, may be surprised to find that 70 percent of 18-24 year-olds and 58 percent of 25-34 year-olds say “assault weapons should be allowed.” Similarly, Republicans, who usually rely upon the senior vote, will find that 57 percent of 55-64 year-olds and 61 percent of people over the age of 65 say assault weapons should be prohibited.
As Congress gets ready to debate new gun restrictions, just 27 percent of Americans say the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 would’ve helped avoid the tragedy if it were still in place. Over two-thirds, 67 percent, say the ban would not have helped avoid the shooting.
The data on that question is actually entertaining. When asked to define “assault weapon,” 29% defined it as an automatic weapon — which are already so restricted as to be functionally banned, and have been since the 1930s. Another 27% say “fires rapidly,” which is either true of nearly all semi-automatic weapons (one round per trigger pull, just like revolvers), or once again refers to automatic weapons which are already functionally barred from possession. Seventeen percent defined it as “fires multiple rounds,” a definition which has even more problems, as even revolvers fire multiple rounds if you keep pulling the trigger. Many of us complain that the phrase “assault weapon” is meaningless; this is a good example of why.
When asked to provide a solution that the federal government could implement that would prevent shootings like Newtown, only 9% wanted a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and clips, although another 16% said they want more gun control in general. The most popular answer at 21% was that the federal government shouldn’t get involved at all, followed by 20% who want more security in schools. Only 7% suggested more background checks, even though that tends to be the most popular answer when asked in other polling.
When asked which is most important, though, 24% respond “better mental-health treatment.” Nineteen percent say stricter gun control, but 18% say “better parenting” and 17% want armed guards at schools. This isn’t a groundswell for gun-control agendas, to say the least.
By the way, the sample has a D/R/I of 36/24/40, so it’s not as though Reason/Rupe are oversampling Republicans in this general-population sample, either.