You, like me, probably get tired of hearing about just how “popular” various measures of gun control are from the mainstream media. It seems that not a day goes by without a new poll showing some outrageously high percentage of Americans support whatever happens to be the gun-control policy of the day.
When confronted with the fact that gun-control proponents have been unable to get policies enacted that they themselves claim are overwhelmingly popular, they often resort to blaming the NRA for “getting in the way” of these clearly “popular” policies. While it’s always flattering to have our political opponents compliment our work, and NRA members have been hugely responsible for defeating bad gun-control policies for decades, the simple truth is that most gun control is just unpopular.
To be clear, though, and no matter the public sentiment around any firearm policy, the Constitution doesn’t require our rights to be popular to receive constitutional protection. The Second Amendment prohibits burdens on the right to keep and bear arms, no matter how popular those burdens may be. As Justice Scalia put it in his landmark Heller opinion, “the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table.”
But gun-control supporters have never let the Constitution get in their way, so what really explains why these supposedly wildly popular polices haven’t become law? The answer is simple: The claimed support for most gun-control policies is illusory, and the gun-control activists know it.
Last summer, The New York Times published an article entitled, “Voters Say They Want Gun Control. Their Votes Say Something Different,” which examined the large gap between alleged support for gun control and actual legislative results. Pollster Nate Cohn explained in the article that, while some polling may show significant support for the criminalization of private transfers, voter behavior makes clear that Americans are divided on the policy:
It’s one of the most puzzling questions for Democrats in American politics: Why is the political system so unresponsive to gun violence? Expanded background checks routinely receive more than 80% or 90% support in polling. Yet, gun control legislation usually gets stymied in Washington and Republicans never seem to pay a political price for their opposition.
After listing some of the usual explanations for this reality, Cohn noted, “But there’s another possibility, one that might be the most sobering of all for gun-control supporters: Their problem could also be the voters, not just politicians or special interests.”
The author then proceeded to point out that, in every instance where so-called “universal background checks” appeared on the ballot, the policy wildly underperformed expectations based on polling.
For instance, based on survey data, 86% of Nevadans supposedly supported the criminalization of private transfers. However, when Nevadans went to the polls in 2016 to vote on the policy, the measure barely passed with 50.45% of the vote.
A similar story played out in Maine. According to the same article, 83% of Mainers were expected to support a background-check ballot measure in 2016. On election day, Maine residents voted the policy down, with 52% opposing the measure. Even in deep-blue states like Washington and California, private transfer ballot measures have underperformed expectations by about 20-30%.
Cohn went on to point out:
The usual theories for America’s conservative gun politics do not explain the poor showings. The supporters of the initiatives outspent the all-powerful gun lobby. All manner of voters, not just single-issue voters or politicians, got an equal say. The Senate was not to blame; indeed, the results suggested that a national referendum on background checks would have lost.
Cohn’s findings were consistent with an older NYT piece that examined the Maine ballot measure:
David Farmer, who led the Maine effort for universal background checks in 2016, said that supporters of gun rights can be particularly persuasive once a concrete proposal is unveiled. In Maine, polling support for the measure declined between introduction and the final vote, before failing, 52-48.
This suggests that as ignorance recedes, so does support for gun control. Despite this, much of the mainstream press continues to parrot the gun-control activists’ line on background-check support, and many voters seem to buy in—at least until they’re more educated on the topic. Hence the never-ending need for NRA, NRA-ILA and NRA members to continue educating the public on their Second Amendment rights.
The bottom line is that opinion polls can be manipulated, but the results of actual votes by educated voters at the polls speak for themselves. The Second Amendment remains as popular today as when it was enshrined in our Constitution more than 230 years ago.