Joe Biden delivers remarks about Afghanistan on August 16, 2021
Joe Biden delivers remarks about Afghanistan on August 16, 2021 / screenshot

Analysis: The Risk and Potential Reward of Biden Doubling Down on Gun Control [Member Exclusive]

President Joe Biden’s increasing focus on promising new gun restrictions could help tip what’s sure to be a tight election. But it’s not a safe bet which direction it tips.

The Biden Campaign released a new gun-control ad this week. It attacked former president Donald Trump’s record on gun policy while touting some of Biden’s gun record. The ad also signaled that Biden intends to make gun policy a more prominent part of his re-election pitch.

That adds new intrigue to the 2020 rematch most Americans didn’t want to see. In a race increasingly likely to come down to a few hundred thousand votes across a handful of states, how each side handles every issue could make the difference between who wins or loses. Biden’s double down could help him reactivate base voters who’ve been soft on him thus far, or it could alienate swing voters and those from traditional democratic demographics who’ve bought guns for the first time in recent years.

Biden has gained momentum in recent weeks, likely due to Trump’s felony convictions in New York. He now trails the former president by .5 percent in the Real Clear Politics average and is up by .1 percent in the 538 average. The latest Fox News poll has Biden up two points, following a three-point swing in his favor since last month.

But the race remains a toss-up, with Trump still ahead in most battleground polling.

That hasn’t kept Biden from emphasizing even his most aggressive gun-control policies. Instead of trying to moderate on the issue, he has pushed for a new sales ban on the AR-15 and other popular firearms from the State of the Union through this week.

“If you care about the gun violence crisis in this country, there is only one candidate in this race with a proven record of successfully taking on the gun lobby and only one candidate who will ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” Biden communications director Michael Tyler told The Hill this week. “That’s President Biden.”

But that’s a big risk because “assault weapons” bans are not broadly popular anymore. Last February, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that most Americans are against an AR ban. That was part of a series of polls identifying a decline in support for new gun bans.

Pointing to the things he’s been able to do, such as signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and unilaterally imposing new restrictions on pistol braces or used gun sales through ATF rulemaking, is probably not helping his cause much. That’s because Biden’s approval on guns has been below his already-low general approval rating since he took office. The last time the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research asked about his handling of gun policy, Biden was at an all-time low at 31 percent approval.

Those numbers indicate Biden has failed to satisfy either side of the gun debate. His accomplishments are not the big ticket items average gun-control supporters are looking for, but the gun owners they directly impact are not happy about them.

His executive actions have been particularly vulnerable to this dynamic. Most Americans likely don’t know what a pistol brace is or have a detailed understanding of how the used gun market works. So, the new restrictions Biden has placed on them have probably gone unnoticed by most people other than the millions who’ve had to register guns the ATF long told them were legal or who’ve given up selling on the secondary market out of fear of the latest ATF directive.

That’s a recipe for making almost everybody unhappy. It’s probably the reason that Fox poll with Biden up by two points over Trump still had him trailing the former president, a convicted felon who can’t even own guns anymore, on who’d be better to handle gun policy.

The only upside for Biden is that he still has room to move Democrats back into his corner. Fox found Republicans were seven points more likely to say Trump would be better at handling gun policy than Democrats were to say the same for Biden. That’s where amping up his aggressive message on restricting guns could have an impact. It could bring some Democrats back home.

Of course, that’s assuming those Democrats unhappy with Biden all feel that way because they want him to do more on guns.

That’s a risky calculation, too. The minorities that Biden has had trouble bringing back into the fold all year are also the fastest-growing demographic of new gun owners, especially in the months and years since Biden’s 2020 victory. A significant portion of the resistance to Biden’s gun policies inside his own party may come from those new owners, and pushing more restrictions will only further alienate them.

Then there’s the independents. Despite Biden winning them by four points overall, they still favor Trump’s handling of guns by two points in the Fox poll. Pushing further to the left on guns risks alienating more of them as well.

It’s impossible to say whether the base voters Biden can rally back to his side with an aggressive gun-control push will offset the swing voters or new gun owners he alienates along the way. But facing another election likely to be decided by a razor-thin margin, that balancing act will be as important as any other facing the unpopular incumbent as he faces off against his equally unpopular predecessor.

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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

Comments From Reload Members

5 Responses

  1. I am an independent voter. Biden’s ridiculous stances and remarks on guns are a huge turn off to me – I won’t be voting for him. How on Earth are we stuck between Biden and Trump again? I wonder if there will be an increase in 3rd party votes this year.

    1. Yea, you’re exactly the kind of voter this strategy is likely to push away. That’s the big risk to it. Will he pull in more disengaged base voters or push away more swing voters? I think it’s hard to say at this point. But it will probably be close, and in an election that’s likely to come down to thousands, rather than millions, of votes, every little bit counts.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot more 3rd party votes than usual this year.

      1. Gun control is not a winning issue for the Democrats and hasn’t been since at least the Clinton years.

        There simply is no significant single-issue anti-gun voting bloc. I am certain that the number of people who would switch their votes from D to R because they don’t think the Democrats are tough enough on gun owners is infinitesimal. I can’t think of a single state that has enacted aggressive gun control legislation with majority support that wouldn’t still be a Democratic stronghold if they didn’t push for those policies. If anything, abandoning that policy agenda might further strengthen the Democrats’ position in blue states, as non-conservative gun owners would be less inclined to vote third-party or simply withhold their votes over gun policy.

        And I can’t think of a single red or purple state that would be likely to flip into the blue column out of a desire to see New York’s or California’s gun laws become federal policy.

        1. I think it’s certainly fair to question whether this strategy is going to work. I think they’re using it as part of a larger effort to motivate Democratic base voters than as the center of the re-election campaign. It’s just another issue where they’re trying to get Biden supporters re-engaged.

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