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Americans used to support an assault weapons ban. Not anymore.

Fewer people agree with the man holding this sign than did a few years ago.
Fewer people agree with the man holding this sign than did a few years ago.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

For the first time in 20 years, a majority of Americans say they oppose banning assault weapons, according to a new poll from ABC News and the Washington Post.

And the people who say they're most worried about terrorism are also more likely to say the solution is for Americans to carry more guns.

The poll's findings, which echo a poll the New York Times and CBS News released earlier in the week, suggest that Americans' views on gun control are shifting. Just four years ago, in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords, polls found nearly two-thirds of Americans said they'd support an assault weapons ban.

Americans are scared of terrorism, and they think guns are the answer

Americans are now more worried about terrorism than they are about mass shootings, according to the New York Times poll, even as the attack in San Bernardino proves that the two aren't necessarily distinct events.

Meanwhile, those polled by ABC and the Washington Post are not confident in the government's ability to stop a terrorist attack. Only 22 percent think the government could prevent a "lone wolf" attack by an individual, and 43 percent think it could stop a bigger plot.

The people most worried about terrorism were also the most likely to say that "encouraging more people to carry guns legally" is the best way to prevent it: 64 percent said that was the right approach, compared with 30 percent who preferred gun control. Americans who are less worried about terrorism are evenly split.

More of the poll's findings:

  • Liberals, Democrats, women, people with a postgraduate degree, and people older than 65 are still more likely than not to say they support banning assault weapons.
  • Americans ages 18 to 29 are strongly against an assault weapons ban, with 39 percent in favor to 59 percent opposed. But there's no split between young and old Americans on whether gun control is the right approach to terrorism.

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