There's No Consensus On 'Sensible' Gun Policies

A new Pew report on guns simply tells advocates what they want to hear.
06/28/2017 02:44 pm ET
An AR-15 sits on a display case as Willy Ludlow, owner of the "Ready Gunner" gun store, talks on the phone in Provo, Utah, U.
George Frey / Reuters
An AR-15 sits on a display case as Willy Ludlow, owner of the "Ready Gunner" gun store, talks on the phone in Provo, Utah, U.S., June 21, 2016.

Last week I posted a column on the new Pew gun report that was exceedingly polite. I spent the weekend thinking about the report, re-reading every word of it twice more and now I am withdrawing my previous column because I cannot, in good conscience, say anything positive about what Pew has produced. In fact, the report is incorrect in many of its assumptions, and as a guide to developing gun violence prevention (GVP) messaging, it’s basically a useless document that should be discounted or ignored.

But it won’t be ignored because when Pew speaks about how Americans think about guns, what they say is what people who want to reduce gun violence are hoping to hear, namely, that many if not most gun owners out there are willing to support all those sensible, responsible solutions that the GVP community believes will sooner or later be implemented and finally begin to work.

So, for example, gun owners and non-gun owners appear to be in agreement over ‘preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns;’ ‘background checks for private sales and at gun shows;’ and ‘barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists.’ One of the major gun-control organizations reacted to these findings by issuing a press release which said: “New Pew Research Provides Further Evidence that Gun Owners Support Solutions to Make Gun Laws Safer.” So that takes care of that.

But what Pew reported doesn’t take care of anything at all. And the reason it doesn’t is that the proposals which had virtual agreement between the two sides were then followed by several other proposals, including expanding gun-free zones and ‘constitutional’ (non-license) carry, where the gap between gun owners and non-gun owners was 20 points or even more.  

In and of itself these results aren’t surprising, we have seen them in survey after survey over the years. What is surprising is that Pew would lump all the ‘gun proposals’ together, as if they have anything to do with each other at all. And in fact, they don’t. The proposals which gain the greatest support from non-gun owners are all crafted to keep guns from getting into the ‘wrong hands,’ which are watchwords for the GVP community because, after all, you can’t say (out loud) that you don’t want guns in anyone’s hands. On the other hand, the gun proposals which show a significant opinion gap between the two sides have nothing to do with reducing gun violence, they simply promote the idea that Americans should own more, not less guns.

If you honestly believe there’s some kind of trade-off between these proposals – we’ll trade you a CCW for a background check – you’re smoking dope. There’s simply no way that anyone who gives a hoot about 2nd-Amendment “rights” is going to line up in favor of expanded background checks when the NRA tells them that such a proposal is a “slippery slope.” Know what it means when a gun owner tells someone over the telephone that they favor keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill? It means they said something over the phone. That’s it.

I have sold guns to over 7,000 people in my retail store. I never heard a single customer ever tell me he was happy to be filling out a 4473 background check form. And if GVP doesn’t stop trying to develop messaging based on some questions about “sensible” gun solutions that are considered sensible only by the GVP, all the Pew polling won’t change the ultimate result one bit.

Want to find out what gun owners really believe will reduce gun violence? Tell your friends at Pew to ask gun owners how they feel about mandatory prison sentences for anyone caught with an illegal gun. What’s not sensible about that? The Attorney General of the United States thinks it’s a great idea. And in case you haven’t noticed, lots of folks out there agree.

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