New "Gun Safety" Study Is More Junk Than Science

Researchers at the Ohio State University claim to have discovered that gun owners’ support for anti-gun measures like universal background checks, waiting periods, and gun storage laws is actually far higher than what polls suggest. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we take a closer look at the new report and why it bears far more resemblance to propaganda than actual research.

Let’s start with the basic premise of the so-called study and what it supposedly found.

Gun safety policies, including universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods, receive wide support among American gun owners, yet most Americans fail to recognize this fact, a new study suggests.

That disconnect may make it hard to adopt these policies, according to the researchers.

The study found that when people learned about the true levels of support for these policies, they were more likely to say both in public and private that they would support the policies. That was true for gun owners as well as those who don’t own guns.

“Many Americans misperceive the opinion climate about gun safety, and that may inhibit their willingness to express their support in public,” said Graham Dixon, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

“When corrected, both gun owners and non-gun owners express stronger public support for these policies.”

So how did the researchers determine this? They used a “3-part survey study with a total of 1262 respondents” (both gun owners and non-gun owners). And we all know how accurate polling is these days, right? And those 1262 respondents are spread out over three separate surveys, each of which started out with a ” short statement about the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018″ before asking respondents several questions about their support for gun control.

In January 2019, the research firm Ipsos administered a survey for the researchers with a nationally representative sample of 508 adults. Gun owners represented 30% of the sample, mirroring Gallup’s recent finding in a nationally representative poll.

More than 90% of both gun owners and non-gun owners said they supported universal background checks. About 85% of non-gun owners and 72% percent of gun owners supported mandatory waiting periods, and 83% of non-gun owners and 63% of gun owners supported safe storage laws.

“The key finding was that despite high levels of support for these policies, most people significantly underestimated support among gun owners,” Dixon said.

So, roughly 170 gun owners is supposed to be representative of the entire country. Where were these gun owners located? How old were these gun owners? How long had they owned a gun? We don’t know any of that information, because the researchers don’t tell us.

I’d argue that there are likely some fairly significant regional differences in the attitudes of gun owners. 170 gun owners in New Jersey, for example, would likely give you different results than 170 gun owners in Texas. Heck, for that matter surveying 170 gun owners in Dallas would probably give you a different result than surveying 170 gun owners in Amarillo or Abilene.

Besides, we already have a large scale study on attitudes towards one of the measures included in this new report. Back in 2016, voters in Maine had the chance to vote on a referendum that would have established a universal background check system. Did it get 90% of the vote? It did not. In fact, the measure was defeated after 52% of the voters rejected the idea. That vote, in essence, was a survey of more than 770,000 Maine residents, and more than 366,000 of them said they don’t support universal background checks. Seems to me like that might tell us a little more about what gun owners think about the issue than a survey of 170 self-identified gun owners.

I’d also argue that presenting information about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School before asking the questions could also skew the results. What if researchers had presented information about, say, a teenage girl using her mom’s pistol to shoot a knife-wielding intruder before they asked about mandatory storage laws and universal background checks? What if they had told survey respondents that universal background check laws are impossible to proactively enforce, and that even after they’re in place, prosecutions or arrests for violations of the law are extraordinarily rare.

Do you think that might have influenced the respondents? I do.

But the study’s authors aren’t interested in portraying gun ownership in a positive light. Their goal, according to the study’s objective, was to “investigate factors that encourage greater private support for and public action on gun safety policy.” In other words, they’re trying to figure out how to gin up support for gun control, not truly investigate attitudes towards the actual policies.

I’m sure groups like Everytown and Moms Demand Action will be thrilled with the new information on how to manipulate people’s emotions to get them to support gun control laws, but taxpayers in Ohio should be incensed that their tax dollars are being used to pay for ways to make gun control propaganda more effective.

Aug 03, 2021 4:30 PM ET