Gun-Control Polling Is Largely Meaningless

    Customer inspects a gun at a store in Phoenix, Ariz. (Reuters photo: Ralph D. Freso)

    From Forbes:

    84%. That’s the share of voters who said they support requiring all gun buyers to go through a background check in a Morning Consult/Politico poll released earlier this month. That includes 77% of Republicans. However, far fewer – just 48% – support closing the loophole addressed by H.R. 1446, while 38% oppose such a measure.

    We hear this statistic a lot, typically coupled with “. . . so why won’t Congress take action?”

    My operating assumption: Because it’s not really true.

    Having written a lot about this topic, I have come to suspect that when Americans tell pollsters that they “support requiring all gun buyers to go through a background check,” they believe they are being asked whether a background-check system should exist at all, rather than whether it should be extended intrusively to all firearms transfers. There is a reason that concrete referendums on this question tend to yield extremely tight splits, that the vast majority of states do not regulate private sales, and that congressional bills, once debated, tend to be far, far less popular than the pre-debate polls had suggested they’d be — and that reason is that while a clear majority of voters do not object to gun stores having to go through the motions, they are not actually that wild about the prospect of involving the government every time they loan their friend a rifle. The Democratic Party and the press spend so much time pretending that it is easier to buy a gun than a taco that many Americans have come to believe that one can simply walk into a Macy’s and pick a machine gun up off the shelf. This, clearly, they oppose. But when that myth has been dispelled and the details begin to intrude? Then, they are less sanguine.

    This dynamic also helps to explain why the polling for HR8 is so much better than for HR1446. One of them, HR8, is polled with an extremely vague question about background checks per se; the other, HR1446, is in the weeds. And, as is so often the case, harsh detail quickly kills cheap enthusiasm.

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