2-1 majority says more guns = less crime

71 percent do not think tougher laws can stop shootings like the one last month in Newtown, Connecticut.  Some 22 percent say new laws can prevent the next Sandy Hook.

Majorities of gun owners (81 percent), non-gun owners (58 percent), Democrats (58 percent), independents (72 percent) and Republicans (85 percent) say the people who do these kinds of things "will always find the guns" to commit violent acts.

The full poll results are available.  Joe Huffman has taken a closer look into those results and has pulled out a few of the more interesting questions.

The most popular suggestions are requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers (with 91 percent favoring this proposal), providing services for mentally ill people who "show violent tendencies" (89 percent) and improving enforcement of existing laws (86 percent)

Large majorities also favor mandating mental-health checks on gun buyers (83 percent) and requiring criminal background checks on anyone buying ammunition (80 percent). 

An important part of the debate about firearms policy consists of understanding not just the specific results of a poll, but what those results mean in the context of the average person's knowledge of existing firearms law.  If a person says they want stronger laws, that's meaningless unless you know what they think the current laws are.

A relevant example: most people who aren't heavily involved in the gun debate believe in something called the "gun show loophole" due to constant repetition in the media.  If you ask them whether they believe background checks should be required at gun shows, they may say "Well, yes, same as everywhere else."  Except the laws (federally; state laws may differ) don't contain any specific exception for gun shows.  Dealers have to run checks, including at gun shows.  Private individuals do not. (Again, federal law; state laws may require it).

If you ask the same person whether Grandpa should do 10 years hard time for giving his grandson a .22 target rifle for Christmas, you'll often get a different answer. 

So, let's throw facts in to this set of poll results.
Requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers, including those buying at gun shows and private sales?
If you are buying from a dealer (the vast majority of legal gun sales), you must pass the background check.  If you are buying from a private individual, they are not able to run a background check on you, but if you are a criminal, it is illegal for you to buy the gun, and illegal for them to sell it to you if they know you are a criminal.  Yes, this also applies at gun shows.

As you can see, the poll question specifically calls out the "gun show loophole", which inevitably clouds the issue.
Requiring mental health checks on all gun buyers: Do you favor or oppose this proposal to reduce gun violence?
Mandating mental health checks on gun buyers is another case.  Existing law says that if you have been involuntarily committed, you can't have a gun, and the background check system is supposed to turn up those results when the dealer runs your name through.  Keeping that database updated it up to the states, which may or may not be diligent about it.  (The Newtown killer was on the prohibited list, tried to buy a gun from a dealer and was denied, so he killed his mother and stole her guns; the Virginia Tech killer should have been on the list but someone dropped the ball). 

But the question implies that this would be a new policy, not one already in place.  Would the results be different if you asked about a step that went beyond current law?  Say, "Would you favor or oppose requiring all gun buyers to be examined by a psychologist and declared of sound mind before being allowed to buy a gun?"  Such a policy would not make sense, and the results for that question would be significantly different.

So all of a sudden you're back to a large majority in favor of existing firearms law.  Maybe some want more than what is already in place, but you can't tease it out based on the questions, because the people responding to the poll probably don't know what the current laws are.  Probably even the people writing the poll don't know.

This entry was published Tue Jan 22 01:06:03 CST 2013 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2013-01-22 01:06:03.0. [Tweet]

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