The latest gun survey conducted by Pew was released on Thursday and it deserves to be studied closely by both sides. The bad news is that the survey relies on one question – protection of gun rights versus more gun regulations – which many feel is too broad and too vague to explain much at all. The good news, on the other hand, is that the survey has been asking the same question for more than twenty years and the responses are sliced and diced by age, gender, race, political leanings and just about everything else.
The headline is that support for gun ‘rights,’ which was narrowly ahead of gun control, has now slipped slightly backward with 47% believing gun rights to be more important but 52% backing more control over guns. The previous poll showed those numbers to be reversed but either way it’s more or less a dead heat. And while there’s no question that support for gun ‘rights’ has steadily increased in every demographic over the last twenty years, the only reason that the national argument over gun rights versus gun control splits 50-50 is because of the response to this question by white men above the age of 30 who live in the Midwest and the South. Once we move to other parts of the country or look at women and minorities, both of whom the gun industry claims to be attracting in droves, support for gun rights becomes thinner and, in some respect, basically dissolves.
Hispanics, for example, were the only racial group that registered more than 75% support for gun control, with Blacks registering 72% and Whites coming in at 40%. But while Hispanics and Blacks currently account for only 30% of the overall population, Hispanics in particular represent a demographic that is increasing and could soon constitute a majority in all the states that border the Rio Grande. Currently these states are comfortably pro-gun in terms of culture and state laws, but if their Hispanic populations keep growing, majority support for gun rights in this section of the country will probably disappear.
The most important gap in attitudes towards guns involves gender, with women supporting gun controls 56% to 42%, while men support gun rights over gun controls by 52% to 45%. These gaps have narrowed from fifteen years ago when women nearly three out of four women were more supportive of gun controls than of gun rights, but it is still a significant measure of difference in a country where women are increasingly heads of households or are making life-style financial decisions without depending on men.
In addition to the keynote rights versus controls question, the Pew survey, which gathered answers from 2,000 adults, also solicited a variety of answers to other questions of which one question in particular caught my eye. Respondents were asked whether they were in favor of a “federal database to track gun sales,” with 70% answering ‘yes.’ But what surprised me in the responses to this question was not the fact that 85% of the people who claimed to be Democrats were in favor of national gun registration (which is exactly what this is) but so were 55% of the folks who claimed to be Republicans as well.
The NRA has been fighting against anything that smacks of a national gun registry since the first federal gun law was passed in 1968, yet a majority of people whom the NRA considers their bread-and-butter political supporters part company with them on this all-important issue. Republicans believe by more than 80% that the political power of the NRA is the right amount whereas 68% of Democrats think that the political power of the NRA is “too much.” Yet these same Republicans do not believe that a national registry of gun sales constitutes a ‘slippery slope.’
If the gun-sense movement could find a way to communicate with and mobilize Republicans who claim to be unafraid of national gun registration, the NRA’s goose would be cooked. That’s the real message from the latest Pew survey, make no mistake.