In the wake of the Aurora, CO shooting tragedy there has been somber coverage, and somber political coverage. Multiple outlets have pronounced "gun control" doomed. Even Huffington Post's senior polling editor Mark Blumenthal (with whom I rarely disagree), declares "gun control polls show long-term decline." But polling reveals a few helpful points to consider before rendering a verdict.
Over-reliance on the word "control" skews results. As I've written about before, the "control" frame is used frequently by the press and in nearly all national polls. But no gun law advocates talk of "controlling" guns. Pew's long-standing question asks respondents whether it is more important to "control gun ownership" or "protect the rights of Americans to own guns." It's no surprise it doesn't test very well. Gun law advocates want safety, not control as its own end.
Another common question is more stable, and shows support for stricter gun laws. Far from "long term decline," a three-way question used by Gallup and others shows quite a bit of stability. The language is typically: "Do you feel the laws covering the sale of guns should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?" This presentation my firm did for the bipartisan group Mayors Against Illegal Guns compiles recent data, and shows a plurality continue to want to see laws "more strict," with hardly any saying "less strict."
There are many, many popular proposals up for discussion. Tightening our gun laws doesn't have to mean an assault weapons ban. Yet even those favorable to the gun safety cause use this data point to suggest why the political will for reform isn't there. Our polling for MAIG has consistently shown strong support for a series of tighter gun laws, including tightening requirements for carrying a concealed gun, requiring reporting of lost and stolen guns, improving data sharing, and tracking bulk purchases of assault rifles. Even people in gun-owning households support these proposals. (See the above presentation, as well as this one.)
In the days ahead, we should not look at the polling coverage and simply throw up our hands. On the contrary, there are many (popular!) ways to improve our current gun laws without infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens.
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