Here are some of the politically notable numbers from the poll:
- Independents trust Democrats over President Trump to handle the nation’s gun laws by 17 points, which is a huge margin.
- “Women,” write The Post’s Mike DeBonis and Emily Guskin, “are more than twice as likely to trust Democrats in Congress than Trump to handle gun laws, 59 percent to 28 percent.”
- Red flag laws and expanding background checks are even supported by a majority of the most conservative groups in this debate such as gun owners and white evangelical Christians.
Here’s a breakdown of political support for key policies, where you can see the country as a whole is very supportive of requiring background checks for all gun buyers (89 percent), red flag laws (86 percent), and a ban on high-capacity magazines (60 percent).
These numbers are notable for a few reasons. Women are key to the 2020 election. White women in particular are a swing constituency. They voted for Trump in 2016 then split their vote for Republicans and Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections.
Independents, of course, are another demographic that play an outsized role in determining close elections. It’s possible, even likely, the 2020 presidential election will be decided by these independents in just a handful of states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. So even though independents are a small slice of the electorate, catering to them matters. And both constituencies are ahead of where the Republican Party is on wanting stricter gun laws.
Republicans sensed all of this over the summer. That’s why you have the top congressional Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who is up for reelection next year in a pro-Trump, pro-gun state, saying things such as: “If the president is in favor … and I know that if we pass it, it’ll become law, I’ll put it on the floor.”
So things are changing fast enough for Congress to acknowledge that there should be a debate over stricter gun laws. Are things changing fast enough for Congress to actually pass stricter gun laws this Congress? Skepticism is warranted.
As I explained recently, wide support for universal background checks and other stricter gun laws is not new. Depending how pollsters ask the question, there is usually 80, 90 percent support for background checks.
But the side that opposes these laws has traditionally been much more vocal. The National Rifle Association has driven one of the most effective lobbying campaigns against stricter gun laws. Their supporters know to call Congress and know how to vote.
Gun control supporters think they’re catching up; in the past year they’ve held rallies on the Mall and outspent the NRA for the first election cycle.
But this poll suggests there’s still some gap in enthusiasm that favors opponents of gun control. More people feel very or somewhat confident that improving mental health would reduce mass shootings (an NRA talking point) than passing stricter gun laws.
And in the 2018 midterms, which gun control activists used to try to rally support particularly after the Parkland, Fla., massacre, just 10 percent of those who voted said gun policy was the most important issue facing the country, according to CNN exit polls. (The top issue, health care, drove 40 percent of people to vote.)
That matches up with what longtime gun-control activists have been seeing: For a wide swath of the country, people who think it’s a good idea to, say, ban high-capacity magazines aren’t generally threatened by what happens if Congress doesn’t do that.
Jim Kessler has studied this issue with the center-left think tank Third Way, which found that people outside of urban areas who aren’t affected daily by gun violence “would be perfectly fine if [a background check law] passed, but it was more a shrug of the shoulders than a shout to the rafters.”
Whether stricter gun laws pass Congress will ultimately come down to how pressured Republicans in the Senate, and President Trump, feel by the public’s support for gun control laws. We can see they do feel political pressure to at least say something, but will it be enough to translate into actually doing something? It will take an overwhelming push, politically, and it’s not clear we’re there.