A ban on assault-style weapons has overwhelming support in Washington, according to a new poll, with proponents outnumbering opponents by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
The WA Poll of 825 Washington adults conducted last week showed support for a ban in virtually every corner of the state, with strong backing in urban areas. Support increases with residents’ education and household income, and residents who identified as Democrats voiced the strongest support: 91% strongly support or somewhat support a ban.
While 62% of Republicans opposed any ban on assault weapons, the poll showed that one-third of them would support a ban, with roughly 1 in 5 voicing strong support.
Overall, the ban was supported by 6 out of every 10 adults across the state.
Washington has already taken some steps toward trying to reduce access to assault-style weapons — a definition that remains somewhat vague but generally refers to a high-powered, semi-automatic rifle or carbine capable of accepting a large-capacity magazine. The most identifiable are AR-style rifles, a semi-automatic version of the weapon used by the U.S. military.
AR rifles, which enthusiasts often refer to as “black guns,” were used by the men who carried out recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. An AR-15 rifle was used in the 2016 mass shooting at a Mukilteo house party that left three dead and another man wounded.
Washington voters in November 2018 passed Initiative 1639, at the time considered the most ambitious gun control measure ever attempted in the state. The initiative raised the age to purchase any semi-automatic rifle to 21 and required the purchaser to pass an enhanced background check, take a firearms training course and wait 10 days before taking possession of the weapon.
The initiative also required owners to keep their guns secured at home. Those who fail to secure their weapons face misdemeanor or felony charges, in some cases, if someone prohibited from possessing a weapon gains access to it.
The initiative passed with 60% of the vote — roughly the same support an all-out ban would receive, according to the new WA Poll, which was conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of The Seattle Times, KING-TV, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public and Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communications. These results had a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
In March, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 5078, which bans the import and sale of large-capacity magazines. Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson have expressed a desire to ban assault rifles, and Ferguson has pitched legislation to that effect annually since 2016. His proposed legislation has yet to make it out of committee.
“The people continue to be way ahead of the politicians regarding common sense gun reform,” Ferguson said in a statement issued in response to the new poll. “A ban on the sale of assault weapons will save lives and Washingtonians overwhelmingly support it. What’s the Legislature waiting for?”
Gun legislation is often controversial and a ban would almost certainly attracted litigation. The legality of SB 5078 is already being challenged in federal court, and challenges to Initiative 1639 reached the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals but have so far been unsuccessful.
Ban proponents, however, think such legislation has a significant chance of passage this year, given the public outrage over repeated mass murders involving the use of assault-style weapons.
“I really think this is the year,” said Robert Silber, an attorney and spokesperson for Washington Ceasefire.
Silber said gun violence is a “public health crisis” and noted that previous polls conducted by his organization and others have shown similar support for a ban on assault-style firearms.
“Too much has happened,” he said. “Constituents are angry. I’m hoping the Legislature realizes we need to do more. We do not need these guns in the public realm.”
Even some gun rights proponents recognize the public angst, but they say it’s misdirected toward a specific firearm and that the poll and supporters of a ban are missing the larger point.
“We’re not talking about a gun,” said Dave Workman, a spokesperson for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, a national gun rights nonprofit based in Bellevue. “We’re talking about a right.”
“And you don’t need a reason or justification to exercise a right,” he said.
“My guess is that if you took a poll right now on the First Amendment that it would do very well,” Workman said. “But we are at a point in our national development where a number of our important and cherished constitutional rights might not fare well in a popularity contest.”
The new poll shows support for an assault weapons ban across every demographic, among every socioeconomic class and in every part of the state. Women support a ban more than men (67% compared with 56%) and residents over age 50 support a ban more than younger adults (66% to 58%).
The most drastic divisions are found within political and social ranks. Those who identified as Republicans oppose the ban by a 2-to-1 margin: 62% compared with 34% who support it.
Independent voters are divided on the issue. Half support a ban compared with 43% in opposition. Six percent were undecided.
For those who voted in the 2020 election, 53% of supporters for former President Donald Trump strongly opposed a ban, with another 17% saying they somewhat opposed it.
Just under three-quarters of those who voted for President Joe Biden strongly support a ban, with another 14% saying they would somewhat support a ban.
Geographical differences also played a role. In Eastern Washington, the more conservative side of the state, just half of the population supported a ban.