CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia voters are divided over policy to regulate semi-automatic guns, according to the latest version of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll.

Participants in the survey were asked, “Are you for or against a law that would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns, known as assault rifles?”

The poll showed that 53 percent responded that they are for such a policy while 47 percent would be against it.

The West Virginia Poll was conducted between August 14-22 with a sample of 501 registered voters. The overall confidence interval for the survey is +/- 4.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

So, considering the margin of error, the divide on regulating semi-automatic weapons may be awfully close.

Rex Repass

“There’s not a big statistical difference between 53 percent and 47 percent if we want to be frank about it,” said pollster Rex Repass, president of Research America Inc., which conducts the West Virginia Poll.

The West Virginia Poll was completed just shortly after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, on August 3, and in Dayton, Ohio, on August 4.

“So, from that perspective, I’m not surprised its 53-47,” Repass said of the West Virginia Poll.

The West Virginia Poll asked the same question in 2013, with similar results. At that point, 44 percent were in favor of making semi-automatic guns illegal with 42 percent opposed and 14 percent not sure.

Semi-automatic guns fire a bullet each time the trigger is pulled and also perform all the steps necessary to prepare it to discharge again.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban was signed into law in 1994 but expired in 2004. Loopholes in the law have prompted debate over how effective it was.

In El Paso, a gunman at a Walmart shot and killed 22 people, apparently targeting immigrants with an AK-47 that was bought legally. In Dayton, nine people were killed in a downtown nightlife area before the shooter was killed by police. The weapon there was an AR-15-style pistol, also purchased legally.

Since those tragedies, gun control policy has been a major part of public discourse.

Among the policies under public discussion are background checks and red flag laws that would give courts more authority to confiscate weapons from people considered a threat to themselves or others.

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Joe Manchin

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has expressed support for expanding background checks to cover private sellers on the internet, advertisements and gun shows. Friday on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” he described talking with President Donald Trump about that topic.

But when Manchin was told about the West Virginia Poll results about semi-automatic guns, he suggested passing such legislation would be unrealistic.

“It’s not even realistic to even be talking about that when we can’t even get my Republican friends to talk about basic background checks,” Manchin said. “That’s another day and a complete other discussion.”

A recent national poll by Monmouth University showed 56 percent favoring a semiautomatic weapons ban with 38 percent opposing.

But when asked about a mandatory buyback program, only 43 percent were in support with 53 percent opposed.

The Monmouth poll was conducted by telephone from August 16 to 20, 2019 with 800 adults in the United States. Again, that was just shortly after the tragedies in El Paso and Dayton.

Regulation of semi-automatic weapons drew sharp responses during last week’s Democratic presidential debate.

Candidate Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman from Texas, was particularly forceful in saying “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

O’Rourke had been asked to clarify his position on gun control. “You know that critics call this confiscation. Are you proposing taking away their guns? And how would this work?” the moderator asked.

O’Rourke described meeting a mother whose 15-year-old daughter bled to death in El Paso as ambulances were overwhelmed.

“We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore,” O’Rourke said.

Other presidential candidates, like Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, did not advocate for forcing current owners to forfeit such weapons.

But Klobuchar did speak in favor of an “assault weapons” ban, as well as magazine limitations. She proposed starting with a voluntary buyback program.

The most realistic approach, she suggested, is starting with bills that are stalled right now in the U.S. Senate.

“You know what else unites us? And I’ll tell you this. What unites us is that right now, on Mitch McConnell’s desk, are three bills — universal background checks, closing the Charleston loophole, and passing my bill to make sure that domestic abusers don’t get AK-47s.”

Methodology Statement
Results of this edition of MetroNews West Virginia Poll are based on interviews conducted between August 14-22, 2018 with a sample of 501 registered voters in West Virginia including registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarian, Mountain Party, and unaffiliated or independent voters. Data collection was completed online with purchased sample of registered voters.

Registered voters in all 55 West Virginia counties were sampled for the survey and modeled to the number of registered voters based on data from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.

When using sample of registered voters and online data collection it is not appropriate to apply a probability-based margin of error to interviews completed. However, applying statistical tests of significance to each question asked at the 95 percent confidence interval yields an overall statistical error of +/- 4.4 percentage points based on the 501 interviews. The 95 percent confidence interval varies by question.

The purpose of the West Virginia Poll is to provide a snapshot of opinion and timely voter views in the Mountain State. The media sponsor of the West Virginia Poll is MetroNews Radio Network.

Rex Repass is director of the West Virginia Poll and president of Research America Inc. Repass is responsible for questionnaire design, the respondent screening and selection process, data tabulation, statistical analysis, and reporting of results.

The MetroNews West Virginia Poll is a non-partisan survey of public opinion conducted by Repass and Research America Inc. The West Virginia Poll has been directed by Repass and conducted periodically since January 21, 1980. The name The West Virginia Poll is a trademark owned by Research America Inc., all rights reserved.

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