Luntz Misleads With New Gun Poll

by Warner Todd Huston | January 25, 2010 6:09 pm

Pollster Frank Luntz is trying to hawk his new poll on gun laws commissioned by the left-wing group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He’s trying to sell the concept that NRA members are just as interested in “common-sense gun policies” as anti-gun nuts and that legislators should take this into account when crafting future anti-gun legislation. The problem is that this poll is misleading in some important ways. The problem here is that the devil being in the details is glossed over by the poll. (Download .pdf of poll here[1])

In an op ed[2] penned by Luntz and Tom Barrett, gun owners are compared favorably with non-gun owners over their feelings on gun banning laws. “The culture war over the right to bear arms isn’t much of a war after all,” the pair tells us. “As it turns out, there is a lot everyone agrees on.”

And this main point serves as the biggest problem with Luntz’ poll. Of course everyone will claim they are for “common-sense” laws. But the first thing that anyone will find out when discussing concrete policies that might come to make up these so-called common-sense ideas is that disagreement quickly reigns when people start getting specific. An assumption that everyone agrees on just what common sense means disappears pretty quickly when the details are laid out.

Luntz was all atwitter over the finding that NRA members are supporters of closing the “gun show loophole.” He thought that this finding was only just short of astounding, apparently.

Mayors of small and large cities and police from throughout the country strongly support closing the gun show loophole. Now we know that gun owners – including NRA members – do, too. The only question is: Are their elected representatives listening?

Again, it is one thing to make a general statement but the devil is in the details and that is where the argument between gun owners and anti-gunners comes in. Who could doubt that it would be a sure thing to guess that both gun owners and non-gun owners would both agree that criminals shouldn’t be allowed to have guns — also one of the questions the poll asks — but how to go about assuring that goal becomes the sticking point. Non-gun owners would say that banning all guns is the solution to criminals getting guns and gun owners would not agree with that at all. Yet, both would say that criminals shouldn’t get guns. Hence a certain level of agreement would be seen on the surface. This is the mistake that Luntz makes. It is all too simple minded.

But Luntz tries to massage this poll into some sort of game changer nonetheless.

The poll confirms what is almost always true: The American people have far more common sense than the politicians in our state capitols and in Washington. They support policies that solidify and protect their Second Amendment rights while also protecting their communities from criminals and illegal behavior. And they recognize that more can be done within the bounds of the Second Amendment to punish the guilty and protect innocent lives.

Still, even in Luntz own poll the divisions that everyone assumes exist do show up.

While in his op ed Luntz is trying to sell us all on the claim that gun owners are for new gun laws, his poll shows that most gun owners think that gun laws are too strict. Luntz found that 35% of the NRA members polled say gun laws should be made less strict. On the other hand only 18% of the non-NRA members think guns laws should be made less strict. That is the standard disagreement that we all assume exists.

The poll also asks softball questions that really are meaningless when trying to discover meaningful differences between NRA members and non-members. Statement #9, for instance, says, “Criminals who possess, use, and traffic in illegal guns should be punished to the maximum extent of the law.” 96% of the NRA members agree and 94% of non-NRA respondents agree.

Well, duh! That finding is meaningless. What large numbers of Americans would feel that criminals shouldn’t be punished for breaking the law?

The media is also touting this study as some amazing new finding. The L.A. Times[3], for instance, peddles some falsehoods in its breathless coverage of the poll. (My bold)

When asked whether they supported or opposed a “proposal requiring all gun sellers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks of the people buying guns,” 69% of the NRA members and 85% of the nonmembers were in favor. This goes to the so-called gun-show loophole, which allows used-gun merchants to sell firearms without doing the background checks that are required when selling new guns. Attempts in Congress to close this loophole have died after meeting strong opposition from the NRA.

This is a flat out untruth. Gun dealers cannot legally sell a firearm at a gun show “without doing the background checks.” ALL licensed gun dealers must do the required background checks. The only “loophole” shows up when private owners go to sell their own guns to other private individuals. It is they that aren’t required to do background checks. Gun dealers are allowed no such restriction free sales.

The L.A. Times also had a second untruth in its report. (Again my bold)

Gun owners also were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “The federal government should not restrict the police’s ability to access, use and share data that helps them enforce federal, state and local gun laws.” This goes to the Tiahrt Amendments[4], provisions attached to federal spending bills that interfere with the ability of police agencies to use federal gun-trace data. The NRA is a big supporter of these amendments, but it’s out of touch with its members; 69% of those polled agreed there should be no federal restrictions on trace data, as did 74% of gun owners as a whole.

Wrong again. The Tihart Amendment does not “interfere” in any way with law enforcement at any level. What Tihart prevents is anyone other than law enforcement having access to these records. It prevents media, lobbyists and politicians from accessing the info, it does not prohibit or “interfere” with law enforcement.

This poll and the coverage of it is entirely misleading and is proof that the anti-Second Amendment meme is alive and well in the Old Media.

  1. here:
  2. op ed:
  3. The L.A. Times:,0,641659.story
  4. Tiahrt Amendments:

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