Just 31 percent of Americans think President Joe Biden is doing a good job of handling gun policy. That number marks a new low, but it’s also unlikely to rise much before the 2024 election.
On Monday, The Associated Press (AP) and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released a poll that showed Biden’s approval on the issue dropped five points from last June. A CNN/SSRS poll released on Friday found Biden’s approval falling to an all-time low as well, with just 30 percent of respondents happy with his performance. Both found his approval on guns was significantly lower than his overall approval rating.
Biden’s general approval, as you might expect, is highly polarized. Democrats are more likely to approve of the job he’s doing than Republicans. That’s true on gun policy as well, but to a lesser degree because Democrats are almost evenly split on how he’s handled that issue.
The AP poll shows 50 percent of Democrats approve of how the president has handled firearms, but 48 percent disapprove. Those are lower marks than they give him on the economy, immigration, and student loans.
But the underperformance on gun policy isn’t new for Biden. His approval on the issue has languished behind his general approval since early in his presidency. There are at least two factors at play that drive that dynamic.
The first is that violence has been noticeably worse under Biden than in previous administrations. The upswing may have begun before he took office, but the issues have persisted throughout his time in office.
Murder has spiked since the start of 2020 and, while the tide seems to be receding somewhat, killings remain well above the pre-pandemic era. So, the murder rate has understandably been at top of mind for many Americans during Biden’s presidency.
The same can be said for mass shootings. While there is a great deal of debate and confusion surrounding exactly how to define what even constitutes a mass shooting, no matter what definition you use, they are happening at a record pace right now. And that’s after they nearly disappeared in 2020 (thanks, likely in large part, due to lockdowns and the public’s general avoidance of crowds). So, the contrast between the two mass shootings The Violence Project tallied that entire year and the five we’ve experienced through May alone is especially stark.
The second factor is just how polarized the issue has become. Americans want to reduce the number of mass shootings and gun murders, but they have very different ideas on how to make that happen. Democrats generally want more gun restrictions, while Republicans want stricter enforcement of current laws and fewer “gun-free zones.”
There’s obviously a lot more nuance between the general split, but the effect is what really matters here. Biden clearly sides with Democrats on the policy solutions he wants to implement. He doesn’t even emphasize the more moderate gun-control policies Democrats favor, such as universal background checks. Instead, he has long centered his firearms agenda around a ban on AR-15s and similar firearms as well as magazines that hold more than ten rounds.
That inherently puts him at odds with Republican voters on the issue. That means they will likely always give him poor marks. To that end, the AP poll found 89 percent disapprove of his gun handling.
Now, usually, Democrats would balance things out here. But, as noted above, they’re pretty unhappy too. Much of that likely comes down to frustration associated with poor expectation setting.
Biden promised throughout his campaign that he would defeat the NRA and pass a new “assault weapons” ban to address mass shootings. Whether that would be effective is for another piece, but passing a ban isn’t actually possible with Republicans who opposed the policy in control of the House. Of course, it clearly wasn’t possible even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress either since they tried and failed.
This was foreseeable and foreseen. Democrats had no chance of winning 60 seats in the 2020 election, which they would’ve needed to pass a ban. Even with the 50 they did get, it was clear there wouldn’t even be a show vote since not all of them support such a ban.
Instead of making that clear, Biden set up expectations among Democratic voters that he not only could get a bill through but that he definitely would. His public statements still reflect that even as the odds of it happening have worsened.
So, it’s not terribly surprising a sizable chunk of his voters are frustrated they haven’t gotten the gun bans they were promised.
Because of this dynamic, Biden will remain stuck between a rock and a hard place for the rest of his first term. And it’s likely only going to get worse. That’s because of the policies he has been able to pursue on his own.
Some of the executive gun actions Biden has taken will have significant effects. His pistol-brace ban, which goes into effect for most people in days, will likely result in millions of gun owners falling into legal limbo for firearms they bought legally throughout the past decade. His “ghost-gun” ban redefines what a firearm even is.
But the problem with both of these policies, besides the fact they are very likely to end in legal defeats for the administration, is they are likely to anger millions of gun voters while doing little to satisfy gun-control advocates. Anyone who owns a pistol-braced gun will probably be mad when they are forced to register their gun, dismantle it, or risk stiff criminal charges. However, the vast majority of Biden voters probably don’t even know what pistol braces are or why Biden wants to effectively ban them.
Supporters will likely argue Biden’s executive actions will save lives (another question for a different story), but they are almost certainly a one-way ratchet that drives down his approval on gun policy.
Biden’s best hope for a reversal before the 2024 election lies in a noticeable improvement in the gun murder rate or mass shootings. Unfortunately for him, outside of moving federal law enforcement resources around, there probably isn’t a lot he can do in the short term to impact either of those. That’s especially true with mass shootings since they are difficult to predict and prevent.
A general increase in Biden’s approval could also have a “rising tides raise all ships” effect on his gun approval, especially as partisans return to him once we get closer to the general election. But the smart money is on Americans continuing to think he’s done a poor job on gun policy for the foreseeable future.