At least we can dispense with the debate over the sample composition of the Washington Post/ABC News poll on this question. Today, ABC unveiled another section of questions from last week’s poll dealing with the Orlando terror attack and the official response to it. By an 86/13 split, Americans support the use of secret watch lists to block the exercise of the Second Amendment — and another 72% may have no issue with infringing on the Fourth Amendment, either.
On the other hand, support for an assault-weapons ban isn’t gaining a lot of strength:
Support varies for policy proposals to address the issue. Most divisive is the idea of nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, 51-48 percent, support-oppose, with most on both sides feeling strongly about their position. That said, support for an assault weapons ban is up 6 points from its more-than-20-year low in December – the sole ABC/Post survey to date to find majority opposition to an assault weapons ban.
The biggest increases in support are among Northeasterners (+12 points, to 65 percent), middle- to upper-income adults (+12 points, to 49 percent), Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (+11 points, to 69 percent), moderates (+11 points, to 57 percent) and nonwhites (+10 points, to 59 percent). There also was a 20-point increase among strong conservatives, but only to 35 percent support overall.
In sharp contrast with views on assault weapons, there’s wide agreement on trying to keep guns out of the hands of those who appear on the FBI’s list of people with possible connections to terrorism. The 86 percent support for this proposal is similar to the level of support in past ABC/Post polls for expanded background checks on people buying guns at gun shows or online.
Let’s start with the assault-weapons ban response. A look at the raw data from pollster Langer Associates shows this to be the second-lowest level of support in the past 22 years. Three years ago, WaPo/ABC polled three times in four months after the Newtown shooting, and got roughly similar responses in all three: 58/39, 57/46, and 56/45. Apart from last December’s majority 53% opposition, this poll’s 48% is the highest level of opposition in the same 22-year span. And in this case, the D+12 sample would make at least some difference, given the specific increase in that demo. This isn’t exactly momentum.
That brings us to the constitutional questions. The pollster asked whether respondents supported “blocking people from buying guns if they appear on the FBI’s list of people with possible connections to terrorism,” which doesn’t exactly provide the context of due process. However, that question got asked after the query about supporting “increasing surveillance of people suspected of possible links to terrorism, even if that intrudes on privacy rights,” which clearly does imply the constitutional issues at hand. And the answer to that question was …
Additionally, 72 percent support increasing surveillance of people suspected of possible links to terrorism even if it intrudes on privacy rights. That follows a historical pattern of willingness to forgo privacy for safety when it comes to countering the threat of terrorism.
The American system of justice relies on core principles based on a fundamental understanding of natural law. First, the Constitution exists to restrain government from encroaching on the rights of its sovereign citizens. Second, each citizen retains those civil rights unless a jury of their peers convicts them of violating the law. Third, each citizen is entitled to due process and a presumption of innocence from the government until conviction.
In the wake of the Orlando shooting, the familiar rush to use the no-fly and terror watch lists as a bar to owning a firearm violates every single one of these principles. …
In this proposal, Clinton and her allies call for an end to due process before denying citizens their constitutional right to bear arms. This is a far more fundamental issue than debating over which firearms to bar from private ownership; it strikes at the fundamental relationship between citizens and the government that exists to serve their liberty interests. Once those principles have been discarded for political expediency on the mere basis of official suspicion, no rights — whether natural or declared — will ever be safe again.
The wisdom of the founding fathers in enshrining these into the Constitution has never been clearer. The temporary passions and whims of the majority would make liberty untenable any other way. It’s too bad that Americans seem so eager to dispose of their birthright, and for no good purpose — since Omar Mateen wasn’t on a watch list at the time he purchased his weapons anyway, and the FBI had closed their investigation of him two years earlier.
Not all of the news from this poll was bad. Slightly more people support encouraging broader gun ownership and carry than support the assault-weapons ban (54% to 51%, respectively), and a plurality (48/40) are tired of US leadership avoiding the naming of radical Islam as a motivation in these attacks. After seeing only 13% of Americans cognizant of the constitutional issues at play with the watch-list ban proposals, though, those points hardly cheer.