Today's Gallup news release, "Support for Gun-Control Laws at All-Time Lows", is one of the most misleading I've seen in a long time.
Not only is the information old, but the main question asked and highlighted is not reflective of current efforts by activists around the country to reduce gun violence.
This polling information was collected last October, which Gallup does mention in its third paragraph. Yet it certainly begs the question: Why publish a statement based on data that is almost six months old, in the wake of a string of mass shootings committed over the past month?
The pressures of getting into the news cycle are powerful, but the important question is what Americans believe about gun violence prevention policy today.
What's even more disturbing is for Gallup to ask Americans whether or not they support a total ban on handguns when that policy has not been pursued nationwide in years and totally ignores the current debate on gun violence prevention.
Since the Supreme Court decided last June that total handgun bans are unconstitutional, such policies are off the table as a policy option. It makes no sense to ask Americans their opinion on a policy that cannot lawfully be enacted.
Asking this question last October - almost four months after the Supreme Court's decision - was puzzling enough. Repeating the same irrelevant polling results six months later in the wake of police officers being murdered with AK-47s is mystifying, and it is a distraction from public attitudes toward the mainstream of gun control policy today.
What Gallup should do in the future is try to replicate the polling results of other surveys that examine Americans' attitudes toward the wide variety of gun violence prevention policies that, in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, are "presumptively lawful" after the Supreme Court's decision, while gauging the desire of Americans to see those proposals enacted into law.
· 83% of voters support requiring background checks for all gun sales in this country;
· 68% support registration of gun sales and licensing of gun owners; and
· 65% support banning military-style assault weapons;
These wide majorities include McCain voters and gun owners who support these policies, as well. (Not surprisingly, some of these results compare favorably to a CNN poll taken in June of last year.)
Over two-thirds of all voters said these policies should be adopted in the first year of the Obama Administration.
It seems that public support for gun control laws is as high as it ever was.
Lives are at stake in the gun violence prevention issue, where 100,000 Americans are killed or wounded every year by gunfire. It's obvious that what we are doing now to reduce gun violence is not working.
In deciding how to address this problem, policymakers should be seeing relevant and current polling if they need some sense of what the public might be thinking now, not old data regarding out-dated questions.
UPDATE: Gallup has changed the title of its release to "Before Recent Shootings, Gun-Control Support Was Fading," though the release URL indicates the earlier version.
See also the Media Matters "County Fair" blog on the same issue from earlier today here.