An attendee examines a pistol optic at SHOT Show 2024
An attendee examines a pistol optic at SHOT Show 2024 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Biden Won’t Tack to Middle on Guns as Election Rematch Confirmed [Member Exclusive]

Despite trailing in the polls against former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden remains committed to his approach on gun policy.

With their respective primaries effectively wrapped up after they each won nearly all of the Super Tuesday contests, the 2024 election will be a 2020 rematch. It’s one most Americans didn’t want, and one each party’s most committed voters seem to believe they can’t lose. Of course, the polling suggests otherwise.

Trump is currently leading by about two points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. He’s led there for the entire year. But never by more than a few points. And there’s reason to think he should be up by significantly more, given how poor Biden’s approval rating has become. There’s also reason to believe Biden’s numbers could improve since a not-insignificant share of his disapproval is driven by voters in his party or people who previously picked him over Trump in 2020.

Either way, the most likely scenario for this race between two deeply unpopular candidates is one in which the margin of victory is razor-thin. That was the case in the last two elections, after all. In that scenario, persuadable voters become very important, which makes sticking to political positions primarily favored by partisans potentially perilous. That’s why moderating on gun policy could prove to help Biden—or Trump.

But President Biden’s State of the Union address certainly suggests he doesn’t plan to take that approach, though.

“I’m demanding a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” he said.

The big problem with Biden continuing to center his gun agenda around an AR-15 ban headed into the election is that it’s just not very popular. Last February, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found a majority of Americans oppose such a ban. It was just one of a series of polls that have found declining support for the President’s marquee gun policy.

Beyond that, it’s clear Biden’s overall approach to gun policy hasn’t helped boost his odds to this point. In addition to passing the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, he has instituted several ATF rules that seek to ban pistol braces or unfinished gun part sales.

Biden’s approval rating on guns has tracked below his overall approval rating for his entire presidency. In the last poll from the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research to ask about his handling of gun policy, Biden hit an all-time low at 31 percent approval.

This is probably due in large part to a dicadomy in attention given to what Biden has done on guns. Those accomplishments have either not satisfied gun-control advocates or affected devices they don’t pay close attention to. On the other hand, the potentially millions of gun owners who own the pistol braces or home-built guns Biden has targeted are likely noticing them and not very happy.

So, Biden’s executive actions put him in a bit of a pickle. He can’t pass the sort of high-profile bans he and his allies want, and he’s limited to taking executive action in the narrow gray areas of current law. That results in policies that go relatively unnoticed by supporters and despised by opponents while the lack of an AR ban or universal background checks is noticed by supporters but does little to placate opponents.

That makes it difficult to foresee a major improvement in Biden’s approval on guns, especially among swing voters. It’s possible he benefits from a general bump in approval among Democrats as the election nears and they begin to come home. But it will be harder to capture independents on the issue.

Doubling down on new bans will only make the task even more difficult.

Perhaps things won’t swing this way. Maybe Biden’s numbers continue to sink through election day and the gap between him and Trump widens. Perhaps Trump is convicted of one of the multiple felonies he’s been charged with and his support nosedives. Maybe turning out committed partisans is all that ends up mattering in our increasingly polarized era. and the side with the most motivated voters, or the best turnout machine, wins without trying to really persuade anyone not already on their team.

It’s impossible to predict where things will actually end up.

But it would be unsurprising if the 2024 election came down to close contests in a few key states that are each decided by a few thousand votes, a substantial portion of whom being cast by people who aren’t party-line voters. If that’s the case, tacking to the center on all kinds of issues could help one of the candidates pull off a win. The numbers we’ve seen over the past three years suggest President Biden’s aggressive approach to enacting new gun restrictions hasn’t helped Americans’ view on his handling of the issue. Sticking to it probably won’t help him bring skeptical independents on board.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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