The latest polling is bad news for President Joe Biden’s hopes to install strict new gun regulations, and it may even derail one of his key nominees.
While Biden and his allies in the gun-control movement have argued it is urgent the country put more restrictions on gun ownership, Americans have consistently told pollsters at the Economist and YouGov they don’t find guns to be among the most important issues facing the country. Throughout Biden’s tenure as president, only about 5 percent of Americans have identified guns as their most important issue, putting it near the bottom of all the issues polled—below issues such as health care, jobs, and taxes. In fact, gun control was the issue Americans were least likely to identify as the most important until the poll added more issues to the question in early February.
While guns may not be at the top of most Americans’ minds, when they do look at President Biden’s positions, they don’t like what they see. Recent polling shows Biden’s approach to guns is less popular than nearly every other policy stance he has. So, Americans aren’t convinced the issue needs urgent action, and they don’t like the action they’ve seen from the president so far.
That imperils Biden’s entire gun-control agenda.
The two gun bills passed by the House are currently stuck in the Senate due to lack of support from Republicans and moderate Democrats. Biden’s nomination of former ATF agent and gun-control activist David Chipman, who supports broad new gun bans and other restrictions, is currently in limbo while moderate senators privately decide whether or not he’ll be confirmed. A lack of enthusiasm from voters on new gun-control measures and Biden’s dismal approval numbers on the issue are likely to concern those senators.
Poor polling could even stop Biden from following through on the unilateral actions he has taken to restrict sales of certain kinds of guns.
Biden’s effort to broaden the ATF’s authority to decide what is and isn’t a firearm, in order to more easily restrict the sale of unfinished gun parts, is going through the official rulemaking process, which requires public comment. His effort to restrict braces for pistol-length AR-15s and similar firearms will go through the same process when it drops this month. Both proposals are susceptible to pressure from the gun industry and gun-rights activists.
If Biden’s polling on guns continues to be so poor, and opposition to the rules during the public comment period is great enough, those rules may be pulled. A similar brace regulation proposed under President Donald Trump was withdrawn after fierce backlash in 2020. And President Barack Obama pulled an attempt to ban certain ammunition through rulemaking after more than 300,000 negative comments.
The same could happen again if gun-rights activists can channel the disapproval of Biden’s gun policies into public comments against his ATF proposals.
If Biden’s polling on guns doesn’t improve, his uphill battle to institute new restrictions will only get steeper as the 2022 elections approach and his party faces voters.