Politics and Public Opinion, Polls

Selective targets in the gun control debate

Obama NRA

In the last few weeks, a steady stream of polls have shown that Americans support policies that would limit the size of ammunition clips, mandate universal background checks for all gun purchases, and require individuals to register their guns with the local government. These are all proposals that the NRA opposes. But wait, there’s a twist. A plurality told Quinnipiac pollsters that the NRA reflects their views on guns more than President Obama. Go figure.

But that’s not the only poll that muddies the water on American views toward gun control. For example, Fox News asked registered voters whether protecting the constitutional right of citizens to own guns is more important to them than protecting citizens from gun violence. A majority (51%) choose protecting gun rights as more important than protecting citizens.

Gun control measures aren’t viewed as very effective, either. CNN/TIME/ORC asked if stricter gun control laws would reduce the amount of violence in the country. Sixty-one percent said such laws would not reduce gun violence. If Americans don’t believe gun control measures will work, is their support for gun control all that strong? Would it be strong enough to overcome concern that new laws would restrict gun rights?

stricter laws would reduce

The NRA’s position that more law-abiding gun owners effectively counter law-breaking gun owners is in line with public opinion. Fox News asked if there would be less violent crime if guns were banned or there were more law abiding gun owners. Fifty-eight percent of Americans said more law abiding gun owners would reduce violent crime. This is a position that many gun control advocates disagree with. But if more guns don’t stop gun violence, then why should public opinion be ignored in that instance, yet used as evidence to support other gun control measures?

Fox News law abiding guns

Americans also prioritize strengthening mental health and school security first and foremost. Gallup asked what approach would be best to prevent future shootings, making major changes to the laws on the sale of guns and ammunition, or making major changes to school security and the mental health system. Sixty-five percent said Congress and the president should focus on school security and mental health, 30% said laws on the sale of guns and ammunition. If the public is to be cited as evidence for gun control, why prioritize gun control over school safety and mental health reform, the opposite of what Americans prefer?

Gallup making major changes

All of this doesn’t necessarily mean that the policies currently being debated are good or bad. It does mean that the polls are not as clear cut on gun control as some advocates would make them out to be.

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