What Can Pew Research Tell Us About NRA And Gun Owners?

posted on September 5, 2017

A new study paints a bright picture for the future of gun ownership and the Second Amendment.

This feature appears in the September ‘17 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association.  

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center has some gun owners and gun haters alike cheering the findings. And while an obviously incorrect claim in the study raises questions about the validity of some responses, the research largely paints a very bright picture of freedom’s future. 

First, that flaw I mentioned.

The survey found—based on the percentage saying “yes” to the question about whether they are NRA members—that more than 14 million Americans consider themselves NRA members. That’s far higher than the actual NRA membership of about 5 million, even accounting for any statistical error the survey produced.

What this means in terms of polling—and one thing that Pew and others simply do not make clear to the public when reporting on the survey results—is that Pew did not survey actual NRA members. Any views, beliefs or opinions ascribed to “NRA members” is a simple guess on the part of those writing the report. Pew does not know what percentage of NRA members support one law or another, how many guns they own or anything else for that matter. At best, Pew can claim to have the responses of Americans who say they are NRA members, but they certainly cannot say much beyond that.

In fact, it is the most dedicated of all gun owners who join or identify with the NRA—the most committed, informed and politically astute gun owners.Yet respondents over-reporting NRA membership is one of the things so encouraging about the study. The biggest takeaway is this—and it’s not positive for the gun-ban movement: If you are committed to the Second Amendment, self-defense, carry a firearm on a regular basis, like to go shooting, practice, take safety courses and advocate politically, then you’ve made the choice to be an NRA member. And even if you’re not a card-carrying member of the NRA, millions identify with the Association enough to “say” they are members.

In fact, it is the most dedicated of all gun owners who join or identify with the NRA—the most committed, informed and politically astute gun owners. Such a fact debunks the whole anti-freedom talking point from Michael Bloomberg’s minions that NRA doesn’t really represent gun owners.

A good example: In response to one question we will discuss in more depth later, some 70 percent of gun owners said that the NRA has the “right amount” or “too little” influence on firearm policy. Such a response indicates a massive approval rating among gun owners. What election in recent years has been carried by 70 percent? And where are all those gun owners that the Demanding Moms and Everytown love to say the NRA doesn’t represent?

Now let’s delve into some of the nuts and bolts to look at what I consider to be some of the high points.

Politics And Policy

This is where the question about NRA membership comes into play. As I said, some 70 percent of gun owners said that the NRA has the “right amount” or “too little” influence on firearm policy, with only 29 percent answering “too much.”

This category also highlighted the grassroots nature of NRA members and other serious gun owners who identify with NRA. Gun owners are more likely than non-gun owners to say they have ever contacted public officials to express their opinion on gun policy. Some 21 percent of owners say they have done this, including 9 percent who say they did so in the past 12 months, while only 12 percent of non-owners say they have ever done this.

Additionally, 71 percent of gun owners say gun laws should not be stricter. And those who think gun laws should be less strict (27 percent) are more likely to contact public officials on the issue (22 percent have ever done so), compared with those who think gun laws should be stricter (15 percent have contacted public officials) or are about right (10 percent). This gap increased further among gun owners: About as many gun owners who want less-strict laws (19 percent) have contacted officials in the last year as owners who want stricter laws have ever contacted officials (20 percent).

Perhaps the most questionable point of the research falls in this category, with Pew’s assertion that some 65 percent of respondents strongly favor requiring background checks for private gun sales and at gun shows. It’s likely that Pew’s mixing of two separate topics in the same question could have confused the issue at least somewhat. Still, reported responses seem to indicate both a gross misunderstanding of gun laws and a departure from reality concerning the issue. Truth is, NRA members—along with many other gun owners and non-gun owners—understand that such a “universal” background check law would affect only the rights of law-abiding citizens, leaving the violent criminals who are causing chaos in the streets of our big cities to ply their trade unchecked.

Private Gun Ownership

The lead art as it originally appeared in America's 1st Freedom magazine.

Nearly three-fourths of current gun owners said that owning a gun is essential to their freedom, with a third of non-gun owners even agreeing on the liberty aspect. About 75 percent of gun owners said they can’t see themselves ever not owning a gun. Additionally, 85 percent of gun owners who said the right to own guns is essential to their sense of freedom said they can’t see themselves ever not owning a gun at some point. And even 41 percent of those who don’t see the right to own guns as essential said the same.

Even more encouraging—and this one must make Shannon Watts pull her hair out—more than half (52 percent) of non-gun owners said that they could see themselves owning a gun in the future. And that’s an attitude shared even by those in suburban (49 percent) and urban (50 percent) areas.

Interestingly, according to the study, while the majority of respondents said that society tends to have a negative view of gun owners, the answer is different when looking closer to home. Most (61 percent) said people in their community generally view gun owners in a positive way, with rural areas leading (79 percent), but even nearly half (47 percent) in urban areas. Interestingly, 66 percent of urban gun owners say people in their community generally have a positive view of most gun owners.

Guns And Daily Life

The Pew study also revealed interesting responses under this broad topic. More than seven in 10 gun owners (72 percent) said they own a handgun, and, of those, more than one-fourth (26 percent) said they carry it outside their home all or most of the time, with 11 percent saying they always carry a handgun. (This does not include times when they might be transporting the gun.) Additionally, more than three in 10 (31 percent) said they carry a handgun for self-defense some of the time. From that response, it would seem that nearly 60 percent of handgun owners believe more in Wayne LaPierre’s, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” than anti-gunners like Demanding Moms’ Watts, who says that armed self-defense “never happens.”

Further results in this category highlight the drastic gap in opinion between gun-owning Democrats and Democrats in the U.S. Congress as far as concealed carry of firearms is concerned. Unlike 15 years ago, it’s hard to find a pro-gun Democrat in Congress nowadays, with near unanimous support for just about any anti-gun legislation. Yet nearly half (45 percent) of Democrats or Democrat-leaning Independents who own a handgun say they carry it outside of their home at least some of the time. (Who’s out of touch with their membership?)

What’s ultimately important to the NRA is representing the views of association members in the ongoing fight for our right to keep and bear arms.Additionally, three-fourths of gun owners (75 percent) said they feel safer with a gun in their household than they would without a gun. And interestingly, among those who neither own a gun nor live with someone who does, substantially more (28 percent) said they would feel safer if they had a gun in their household than those who would feel less safe (20 percent).

Gun Owner Responsibility

To further counter the anti-gunners’ claims that gun owners can’t be trusted to handle and use their firearms safely, Pew revealed that a full 70 percent of gun owners said they had taken a gun safety course such as “weapons training, firearm training or hunter safety.” Additionally, gun owners who own multiple guns (about 77 percent) are more likely to have done so.

These numbers do differ by demographic group. For example, male gun owners are more likely than their female counterparts to say they have done this (76 percent vs. 60 percent). And while about three-quarters of those younger than 50 (77 percent) say they have taken a gun safety course, a somewhat smaller share of older gun owners (63 percent) say the same.

Guns And Crime

More than eight in 10 gun owners (83 percent of gun owners; 87 percent of non-gun owners) said that the ease of access to illegal guns is contributing a great deal or a fair amount to gun violence. The fact that the misnomer “gun violence” is being used here for what is actually violent criminal use of a firearm taints the question somewhat. But the response does raise the question of why anti-gun advocates and politicians constantly push proposals that would affect only law-abiding gun owners and “legal” guns.

Another response in this category further amplifies this thought. When it comes to the role guns play in violent crime, three-quarters of respondents said that people who want to kill or harm others would find a way to do so whether or not they had access to a gun. Only 24 percent say they think someone is less likely to kill or harm others without access to a gun.

Additionally, gun owners were more likely to say that those who want to kill or harm others would find a way to do so without a gun, but majorities of both gun owners and non-gun owners alike believe this is the case (84 percent vs. 70 percent).

Wrapping It Up

In the end, studies come and studies go, and this one had some interesting information to digest. But what’s ultimately important to the NRA is representing the views of association members in the ongoing fight for our right to keep and bear arms. And those views simply can’t be reported on in an accurate manner by Pew or any organization, since member rolls are not public.

Fortunately, NRA officials know what those views and opinions are. As NRA-ILA pointed out in a web feature shortly after release of the Pew study: “The only way to know what NRA members’ opinions are is to talk directly and exclusively to NRA members. That’s what the NRA as an institution does, each and every day.”

Mark Chesnut has been the editor of America’s 1st Freedom magazine for 17 years and is an avid hunter, shooter and political observer.


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