Americans don’t understand the “assault weapons” ban they support

assault weapons

While the White House is touting support in the polls for its gun control proposal, including renewal of the Assault Weapons Ban, Jacob Sullum notes a new poll conducted by Reason-Rupe that shows that Americans don’t really know what an “assault weapons” is:

Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey conducted this month suggests such misconceptions are common. After asking the 1,000 respondents if they thought people should be “prohibited from owning assault weapons,” the survey (which is sponsored by my employer, the Reason Foundation) asked half of the sample to “describe an assault weapon.” The answers are illuminating.

About two-thirds of the respondents described “assault weapons” as guns that fire rapidly, guns that can fire a large number of rounds without reloading, guns with a lot of “power,” or guns used by the military. More than a quarter described them as “machine guns,” “automatics,” or the equivalent (e.g., “multiple rounds with just one pull of the trigger”).

Overall support for banning “assault weapons” was only 44 percent, considerably lower than the 60 percent or so in recent Gallup and ABC News polls. But there was majority support—53 percent and 59 percent, respectively—among people whose descriptions of “assault weapons” emphasized rate of fire (including those who mistakenly described them as machine guns) or ammunition capacity.

Sullum notes that one respondent to the poll said that the gun used in the Sandy Hook shooting should be banned. But Sullum explains, “That horrifying event, of course, was the pretext for Feinstein’s bill, although the Bushmaster rifle Adam Lanza used to murder 20 children and six adults was not covered by the old federal ‘assault weapon’ ban or by a similar law in Connecticut.”

When it all comes down to it, the Assault Weapons Ban currently in the Senate, which stands little chance of being passed, will not prevent tragedies from happening again. And it’s worth noting that most of the weapons covered under the original Assault Weapons Ban were included because of their look. People apparently don’t seem to realize that fully-automatic weapons were (and still are) illegal. But President Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and others have been able to push the issue without much, if any, question from the press.

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