Politics & Government

More people in gun-friendly South favor a ban on assault weapons?

Law enforcement officials works at the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017.
Law enforcement officials works at the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. Austin American-Statesman/AP

The tempo of mass shootings in recent years could be leading more people to favor stronger gun laws, even in the gun-friendly South.

A plurality of residents in 11 Southern states say they would favor a ban on assault-style weapons, according to the latest Winthrop Poll.

Forty-nine percent of those surveyed favor a ban versus 46 percent opposed.

Democrats and African-Americans are more likely to favor a ban, with 72 percent and 62 percent, respectively, telling pollsters they want a ban.

But 47 percent of white Southerners also said they favor stopping the sale of the high-powered, semi-automatic weapons. Forty-nine percent opposed a ban.

Even among those with a gun in their home, 44 percent said they supported a change in the law versus 52 percent who opposed a ban. Meanwhile, 37 percent of Republicans favor a ban, compared with 58 percent who oppose one.

“Non-gun owners think the South is uniform, but that’s really not the case,” said Winthrop Poll director Scott Huffmon. “Responsible gun owners only want responsible people to own guns.”

Southerners still less likely to support gun control

The Winthrop Poll, done by Rock Hill’s Winthrop University, asked the question about assault weapons exclusively for The State.

That question – and another about banning high-capacity magazines – followed a series of mass murders involving the weapons.

Asked whether high-capacity magazines should be banned, the Southerners polled were almost equally divided.

Forty-seven percent opposed a ban on the clips, which hold large numbers of bullets and have been blamed for the high number of casualties in recent tragedies. Meanwhile, 46 percent supported a ban.

Huffmon called that a statistical tie.

Huffmon said two factors might have contributed to the high numbers in favor of a assault-weapon ban; the timing of the poll – after a mass slaying in Nevada – and how the weapons were described.

Those surveyed might have been put off by the term “assault” in describing the military-style weapons, for instance.

“Assault weapon” does not describe any specific model of semi-automatic firearm, but Huffmon said he wanted to use the same language as has been used in national polling so he could make comparisons. “The national questions are much heavier on banning high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.”

Nationally, a Quinnipiac poll in October found 64 percent of those surveyed favor bans on both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“Even if it looks like Southerners are more in favor, it’s still lower than it is nationally, which is the comparison we wanted to make,” said Huffmon.

The Winthrop Poll was conducted from Oct. 22 to Nov. 5, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting that killed more than 50 people at an outdoor country music concert on Oct. 1.

That incident might have made more of those surveyed more likely to support gun-control measures, Huffmon said.

The last day of polling was the day more than 20 people were shot and killed in an attack on a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. But Huffmon doubts that incident had time to impact even the responses from Nov. 5.

National support of ban at 60%

Nationally, there has been a rise in support for stricter gun measures in recent years.

Gallup tracking data shows support for stricter laws on gun sales had increased to 60 percent as of October from a low of 43 percent in 2011, when there was a virtual tie with those who wanted to keep gun laws as they are.

But support for stricter gun laws still is lower in Gallup’s polling than it was in years past.

In 1990, for instance, 78 percent supported stricter gun laws. And, in December 1993, 67 percent told the pollster they wanted stricter laws, just before Congress passed a now-expired assault weapons ban.

The Winthrop Poll surveyed 830 residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The poll’s margin of error is 3.4 percent overall, and 4 percent for white respondents and 7.7 percent for black respondents.

Guns in the South

Source: Winthrop University