Americans have simultaneously soured on the need for tighter gun laws and the importance of protecting gun rights over the last year.
A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Friday found that 64 percent of Americans think the country’s gun laws should be made much or somewhat stricter. That’s down seven points from just a year prior, driven primarily by a 17-point drop in support among Republicans and an 11-point one among independents. Democrats remained firmly in favor of stricter gun laws, with 92 percent of respondents saying so.
At the same time, the poll found that just 48 percent of adults now say protecting the right to own a gun is important to them. That’s down six percentage points in the last year.
It also found a ten-percentage point drop in the number of Americans who say ensuring people can own guns for personal protection is important to them.
The poll’s findings reveal a mixed bag for gun politics and the public mood. They indicate a diminishing appetite for new gun restrictions. But they also provide further evidence of a continued shift away from prioritizing gun rights among the American people in what could become a worrisome trend for gun-rights advocates.
The poll identified a significant partisan split over the importance of gun rights and ownership. While more than 70 percent of Republicans said protecting the right to own a gun and ensuring people can access them for personal protection was essential to them, only about a third of Democrats said the same.
Not every question saw significant movement in the poll. Nearly three in five adults support a nationwide ban on the sale of AR-15s and similar semiautomatic weapons. That’s roughly the same number that said so last August. However, it did represent a seven-point increase from last May. The partisan split was also apparent in backing for a so-called assault weapons ban. More than 8 in 10 Democrats support the policy compared with only a third of Republicans.
Support for expanding background checks to “private sales and gun shows” was at 79 percent, down six percent from last summer. Backing for a law “allowing courts to temporarily prevent people who are considered a danger to themselves or others, but have not been convicted of a crime, from owning a gun” was also down eight percent but still enjoyed 70 percent support.
Meanwhile, just over 40 percent of respondents said they would allow trained teachers and administrators to be armed in schools. Nearly two-thirds of Republicans said they support such a policy, compared with only one-fifth of Democrats.
One thing both parties seem to agree on is President Joe Biden’s performance on guns. His numbers ticked up slightly from when the question was asked three months ago, but 64 percent disapprove of how he’s handling gun policy, while roughly one-third approve. That finding has remained relatively consistent since at least May of 2021.
Outside the realm of specific gun policies, the survey documented a sizeable increase in gun ownership since before the pandemic. The poll found that 46 percent of adults say they either personally own or live with someone who owns a firearm, up eight percent from when the poll asked the same question in 2019.
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research was conducted between August 10-14, 2023. It sampled 1,165 adults 18 and older by web and telephone. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.84 percentage points.