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Public Divided On Assault Weapons Policy

Monday, Sept. 9, 2019

Broad support for background checks and “red flag” laws

West Long Branch, NJ – Most Americans support a ban on the future sale of assault weapons, but oppose a mandatory buyback program to take existing assault weapons out of the hands of current owners.  The Monmouth University Poll finds broader public support for “red flag” laws, comprehensive background checks, and a national gun registry. There is a stark difference of opinion between gun owners and nonowners on most of these measures, with members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) being even more likely than other gun owners to stand in opposition to gun control proposals.

The poll finds 56% of the public supports banning the future sale of assault weapons (44% strongly and 12% somewhat), while 38% oppose this (28% strongly and 10% somewhat).  At the same time, 53% oppose a mandatory buyback program of assault weapons currently in private hands (40% strongly and 13% somewhat), compared to 43% who support such a program (33% strongly and 10% somewhat).

Most Democrats back both a ban on future assault weapons sales (86% support and 12% oppose) and a mandatory buyback program for currently owned assault weapons (69% support and 25% oppose). Few Republicans are in favor of either a sales ban (35% support and 59% oppose) or a mandatory buyback (22% support and 74% oppose).  Independents are divided on a sales ban (47% support and 45% oppose) but decidedly negative on a mandatory buyback program (36% support and 60% oppose).  An assault weapons sales ban has widespread backing among Americans who do not currently own guns (69%) but much less support among gun owners, including members of the NRA (27%) and those who are not NRA members (42%). Similarly, 57% of nonowners support a mandatory assault weapons buyback program, but only 11% of NRA members and 26% of other gun owners agree.

“An assault weapons sales ban has majority support but there are deep pockets of opposition among gun-owning Americans. There is even greater opposition to programs that would try to take these weapons out of the hands of people who already own them,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The vast majority (83%) of Americans support requiring comprehensive background checks for all gun purchasers including private sales between two individuals. This includes 68% who strongly support this and 15% who somewhat support it. Just 13% are opposed. These results are nearly identical to public opinion in March 2018 (83% support and 16% oppose).  Support for this proposal comes from 94% of Democrats, 84% of independents, and 72% of Republicans. A majority of NRA members (65%) also support comprehensive background checks, but they do so by a smaller margin than gun owners who are not NRA members (76%) and nonowners of firearms (91%).

There is also broad support (75%) for establishing red flag laws that would allow police to temporarily take guns away from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others. This includes 53% who strongly support red flag laws and 22% who somewhat support them. Only 20% are opposed.  Majority support for red flag laws comes from Democrats (92%), independents (70%), and Republicans (65%), as well as NRA members (59%), gun owners not in the NRA (70%), and nonowners (83%).  This question was not asked in prior Monmouth polls.

A majority of the public (62%) also supports establishing a national gun ownership database to register all guns in the country, with 49% who strongly support this and 13% who somewhat support it.  Another 33% are opposed to such a registry.  These results are very similar to public opinion last year (65% support and 32% oppose), but as with the prior poll, there are some significant demographic differences.  Majorities of Democrats (85%) and independents (59%) back this proposal, while only 35% of Republicans agree.  Support for a national gun registry has dropped by 10 points among Republicans (45% in March 2018) and by 5 points among independents (64%), but has held steady among Democrats (84%).  Very few NRA members are in favor of this idea (20% support and 76% oppose) while other gun owners are divided (49% support and 48% oppose). Most nonowners back establishing a national gun registry (76% support and 18% oppose).  These differences by gun ownership are statistically similar to Monmouth’s March 2018 poll.

“Support for certain gun control measures remains high but new tragedies do not seem to move the needle any further. This suggests that we may be at a saturation point for how these events shape public opinion,” said Murray.  The current poll was taken after recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton while last year’s Monmouth poll was taken shortly after the Parkland, Florida high school shooting.

Half the public (50%) expresses concern that proposed registration measures would be used by the federal government to monitor other activities of American citizens. This includes 23% who are very worried about this possibility and 27% who are somewhat worried. A nearly identical number are not too worried (19%) or not at all worried (30%). These results are virtually unchanged from last year.  NRA members (75%) continue to be significantly more likely than other gun owners (55%) and nonowners (43%) to express at least some worry that the government would use background checks or a gun database to track Americans’ activities.

Just over 4-in-10 Americans (42%) say they trust Donald Trump to do the right thing on gun policy, while more (52%) say they do not trust him on gun issues. This is slightly more negative for the president than the 46% trust and 49% do not trust evaluation he received last year. However, NRA members (76%) continue to be more confident than other gun owners (55%) as well as nonowners (31%) that Trump will do what they consider the “right thing” on gun policy.

“Despite what the president may say about being open to new gun control measures in the wake of tragic shootings, NRA members feel pretty confident that he will have their backs in the end,” said Murray.  One-third of American adults (34%) report currently owning firearms and 7% report being members of the NRA.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from August 16 to 20, 2019 with 800 adults in the United States.  The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

QUESTIONS AND RESULTS     

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)

[Q1-17 previously released.]

18. Do you support or oppose requiring comprehensive background checks for all gun purchasers, including private sales between two individuals?  [Do you support/oppose that strongly or somewhat?]

TREND: Aug.
2019
March
2018
Strongly support 68% 68%
Somewhat support 15% 15%
Somewhat oppose 4% 5%
Strongly oppose 9% 11%
(VOL) Don’t know 3% 2%
(n) (800) (803)

19. Do you support or oppose establishing a national gun ownership database to register all guns in the country? [Do you support/oppose that strongly or somewhat?]

TREND: Aug.
2019
March
2018
Strongly support 49% 52%
Somewhat support 13% 13%
Somewhat oppose 8% 7%
Strongly oppose 25% 25%
(VOL) Don’t know 5% 3%
(n) (800) (803)

20. How worried are you that something like comprehensive background checks or a national gun ownership database would be used by the federal government to monitor other activities of American citizens – very worried, somewhat worried, not too worried, or not at all worried?

TREND: Aug.
2019
March
2018
Very worried 23% 24%
Somewhat worried 27% 27%
Not too worried 19% 25%
Not at all worried 30% 23%
(VOL) Don’t know 2% 1%
(n) (800) (803)

21. Do you support or oppose banning the future sale of assault weapons? [Do you support/oppose that strongly or somewhat?]

  Aug.
2019
Strongly support 44%
Somewhat support 12%
Somewhat oppose 10%
Strongly oppose 28%
(VOL) Don’t know 6%
(n) (800)

22. Do you support or oppose banning the ownership of assault weapons so that current owners have to turn in their guns to a mandatory buyback program? [Do you support/oppose that strongly or somewhat?]

  Aug.
2019
Strongly support 33%
Somewhat support 10%
Somewhat oppose 13%
Strongly oppose 40%
(VOL) Don’t know 4%
(n) (800)

23. Do you support or oppose a federal red flag law that would allow police to temporarily take away the guns of someone who poses a threat to themselves or others? [Do you support/oppose that strongly or somewhat?]

  Aug.
2019
Strongly support 53%
Somewhat support 22%
Somewhat oppose 7%
Strongly oppose 13%
(VOL) Don’t know 4%
(n) (800)

24. Do you or anyone in your household own a gun, rifle, or pistol? [If YES: Is that you or someone else in your household?]

TREND: Aug.
2019
March
2018
Yes, self 19% 17%
Yes, someone else  10% 12%
Yes, both self and someone else  15% 17%
No, nobody in household owns a gun 51% 47%
(VOL) Don’t know 5% 7%
(n) (800) (803)

25. Are you or anyone in your household a member of the National Rifle Association or NRA? [If YES: Is that you or someone else in your household?]

  Aug.
2019
March
2018
Yes, self 5% 5%
Yes, someone else  4% 5%
Yes, both self and someone else 2% 4%
No, nobody in household is an NRA member 87% 82%
(VOL) Don’t know 2% 4%
(n) (800) (803)

26. Do you trust or not trust President Trump to do the right thing on gun policy?  [If TRUST: Do you trust him a lot or a little?]

TREND: Aug.
2019
March
2018
Trust a lot 27% 29%
Trust a little 15% 17%
Do not trust 52% 49%
(VOL) Don’t know 6% 4%
(n) (800) (803)

METHODOLOGY

The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from August 16 to 20, 2019 with a national random sample of 800 adults age 18 and older, in English. This includes 314 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 486 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone. Telephone numbers were selected through random digit dialing and landline respondents were selected with a modified Troldahl-Carter youngest adult household screen. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. Final sample is weighted for region, age, education, gender and race based on US Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and Dynata (RDD sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

DEMOGRAPHICS (weighted)
Self-Reported
25% Republican
45% Independent
30% Democrat
 
48% Male
52% Female
 
30% 18-34
33% 35-54
36% 55+
 
64% White
12% Black
16% Hispanic
  9% Asian/Other
 
68% No degree
32% 4 year degree
  

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and crosstabs by key demographic groups.

Download this Poll Report with crosstabs