USA Today poll shows gun-control support slipping still further

President Obama’s indignant display of outrageously moral outrage following last week’s failed Senate gun-control vote notwithstanding, Americans’ support for further federal gun-control laws is continuing on its downward trajectory, according to USA Today‘s latest measure — which doesn’t do much to bolster the notion that Americans’ support for the legislation’s passage was really quite as robustly universal as its advocates made it out to be.

Four months after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a USA TODAY Poll finds support for a new gun-control law ebbing as prospects for passage on Capitol Hill seem to fade.

Americans are more narrowly divided on the issue than in recent months, and backing for a bill has slipped below 50%, the poll finds. By 49%-45%, those surveyed favor Congress passing a new gun-control law. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in early April, 55% had backed a stricter gun law, which was down from 61% in February. …

Those who support a bill want advocates in Congress to hang tough and not compromise — an attitude that also could complicate passing legislation. Sixty-one percent say members of Congress “should only agree to a stronger version of the bill, even if it might not pass.” Just 30% say they should “accept a weaker law” they know can win approval.

And this was taken last Thursday through Sunday, with a four percent margin of error. Where is this miraculous and overwhelming surge of gun-control support about which we heard so much?

After the Senate’s vote, the White House signaled that President Obama would again be trying (or at least, trying to appear as if he’s sincerely trying, the better to rail against ‘Republican obstructionism’) to take matters into his own hands and make substantive moves via renewed vigor with executive actions, and it sounds like some gun-control supporters are thinking/hoping that the naysayers are going to pay for this particular bit of obstructionism with electoral losses in the 2014 midterms — and yet I’m somehow left wondering if that’s really wise. As Sean Trende pointed out at RCP, the gun-control issue hurting the gun-rights crowd is probably a long shot for several reasons, not the least of which is that the whole thing still pretty darn low-priority for most voters, except for those that are passionate defenders of gun rights:

Regardless of the level of support for certain provisions, it isn’t an issue most Americans think much about. In early April, Gallup asked respondents what they thought the most pressing problems for the country were. The economy was the top choice, with 24 percent support. “Guns/gun control” was part of a four-way tie for seventh place (with immigration, education, and North Korea). This is the same share as in January.

On the other hand, the opponents of stricter gun control tend to be highly energized. Consider this amazing anecdote, relayed by National Journal’s Jill Lawrence: “During Biden’s 1996 campaign, [former Biden Chief of Staff Ted] Kaufman told me, a fellow from Biden’s office was going fishing in rural southern Delaware. He drove down a dirt road, got out, and walked another mile to a stream, ‘and some guy comes by and hands him an anti-Joe Biden leaflet from the NRA,’ Kaufman said. ‘These are incredibly dedicated folks.’ ”

Therein lies the rub. On Election Day, opponents of gun control are likely to go to the polls and vote on gun control. The other side is not. This is exactly why the assault weapons ban — which passed the Senate in 1994 — got only 40 votes this time around.

If anything, I’m thinking the gun-control issue might hurt the Democrats, not the other way around.

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