In the aftermath of the successful campaign to extend background checks in Washington State, the gun-control movement will probably try to renew the push for background checks at the federal level, as well as on a state-by-state basis. In this regard, the Brady Organization sent out a press release touting the latest figures on background checks in a report compiled and published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics which shows, among other things, that the background check system has prevented 2.4 million sales of guns to what Brady calls “dangerous” people, a.k.a. individuals who could not pass a NICS check while attempting to purchase a gun.
Brady then goes on to quote from a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last July which found that 92 percent of voters, including gun owners, favored background checks on all gun sales, with even Republican voters calling for an expansion of background checks to the tune of 86-11 percent. This poll, and similar polls by Pew conducted after Sandy Hook, are so clearly contrary to what happened with the Senate bill that was defeated in 2013, that I was always suspicious of the claims about the ability of the NRA to strong-arm legislators at the federal level and kill gun-control legislation before it gets out of the gate. I could see where a gun bill, or any bill for that matter would probably fail in Congress if the public were more or less evenly split, as we seem to be on such issues as climate control or foreign affairs. But if 9 out of 10 voters in a representative and credible national poll claim to be in favor of expanded background checks and you can’t find 5 Republicans to join 55 Democrats to vote up the bill, then with all due respct to the muscle of the NRA, something’s clearly out of whack.
And where it appears to be out of whack is in the Quinnipiac poll itself, because every time the poll is referenced, the results of one additional question somehow, don’t ask me how, never seem to find their way into the media advisories that are sent out by the organizations that are promoting more background checks. And here’s the question which directly followed the questions on expanding background checks to cover private gun sales: “Are you in favor of stricter gun control laws?” And here’s the response: 50 percent said ‘yes’ and 47 percent said ‘no.’ In other words, basically a dead heat.
With all due respect to my friends in the gun safety movement, or the gun-control movement, or the common-sense movement , or whatever sobriquet they choose to use for the important and necessary work that they do, the gap between public perceptions about something called “background checks” and the whole issue of “gun control” needs to be addressed. Because the fact is that the NRA and its allies base their entire opposition to background checks on the idea that it represents a ‘slippery-slope’ which will eventually lead to complete gun control which will then lead to all the guns being taken away.
It’s a stupid and silly argument but the NRA rolls it out every time. The problem with polls that try to determine public attitudes about background checks is that the respondents are never asked whether they understand that background checks and gun control are one and the same thing. The fact is that ‘gun control’ has become a toxic phrase with certain groups, particularly gun owners, and you’re not going to win them over by pretending that forcing everyone to register every gun transaction is something other than what it really is. The NRA promotes gun ownership by claiming without a shred of valid evidence that guns protect us against crime. If our side wants to promote policies that will reduce gun violence, there’s no reason why we should be afraid to say what we really mean.