Several weeks ago I posted a column about the latest Gallup poll which showed that, for the first time, 60% of respondents believed that home was safer with a gun. I also noted that since the percentage of respondents reporting gun ownership was below 45%, that obviously many non-gun owners shared the belief that guns made people more, not less safe. Philip Cook then sent me an article that raised interesting issues about the validity of gun polling data, so I went back and looked at all of the Gallup polls on guns, which number more than 40 different topics comprising nearly 300 separate polls, and what I said last week about a general trend to greater acceptance of guns by the public turns out to not really be true.
It is true that more than 60% of Americans believe that a gun in the home makes us safer, but even though this number obviously includes a lot of non-gun owners, the poll results haven’t translated in new folks rushing out to buy guns. Furthermore, the percentage of Americans who want stricter gun laws continues to run substantially ahead of those who believe that current gun laws need not be changed, and while groups like the 2nd Amendment Foundation and other rabid, pro-gun groups keep calling for less strict laws, the percentage of Gallup respondents who agree with this viewpoint has never risen above 15%.
Right after Sandy Hook, NRA totem Wayne LaPierre gave a speech in which, according to him, gun violence was caused by a breakdown of the mental health system, lenient sentences for criminals who got caught using guns, extensive media violence and, most of all, not enough guns in “good-guy” hands. Two months before Sandy Hook Gallup asked the same question in a poll, and while respondents supported LaPierre’s views on defects in mental health reporting, they also cited as the second most important reason something the NRA always chooses to ignore, namely, “easy access” to guns.
The fact that Americans consider gun availability to be the second most important reason for mass gun violence shouldn’t come as a big surprise because the Gallup polls have consistently shown that more Americans want stricter gun laws than those who don’t, and this number spiked at nearly 60% right after Sandy Hook. The relationship between media coverage of shootings and public concern about guns is not easy to figure out, and I certainly don’t have the expertise to explore this issue in depth. But I do note that every time Gallup asked about guns in the several months after Sandy Hook, general sentiment seemed to move every time towards more gun control and less guns.
Back in the 1980’s Americans resisted the idea that government should ban cigarettes even though we agreed that smoking was a risk to public health. And even Rush Limbaugh begins to lose his audience when he launches a tirade about government restrictions on second-hand smoke. If the Gallup polls demonstrate anything, it’s that we have reached a similar state in the argument over guns. A clear majority of Americans feel there is no reason for them to own a gun, but they don’t want to prevent others from owning them, as long as ownership is controlled.
The rubber really meets the road when we get down to the definition of “control” and, in that respect, I have a little advice for both sides. I think the gun-control folks should leave concerns about gun safety to people who own guns, and I think the gunnies should stop trying to convince everyone that an armed citizenry will make us more safe. If we are going to be the only advanced country that allows its citizens free access to small arms, then gun owners should take responsibility for safety and not defer to phony safety programs like Project ChildSafe peddled by the NSSF. At the same time, gun-control organizations shouldn’t back down from the idea that gun ownership is a serious risk, and you don’t lessen that risk by walking around with a gun.
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