A Second Amendment silver lining in civics survey?

Every year around Constitution Day the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania releases its Constitution Day Civics Survey, and the results this year once again reveal a high level of civic illiteracy on the part of many Americans. There is, however, at least one bright spot when it comes to our understanding of the right to keep and bear arms, as we discuss on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co.

Before we get to that silver lining, however, let’s talk about a few of the not-so-great findings in Annenberg’s new survey, starting with the fact that fewer than half of all respondents could identify the three branches of government; something that should be pretty easy to do given that the vast majority of us learned this in school (and for those of us of a certain generation, Schoolhouse Rock).

The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s annual Constitution Day Civics Survey found a significant drop in the percentage of Americans who could name all three branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial — falling by 9 percentage points from a year earlier.

About a quarter of Americans surveyed could not name a single branch.

The survey also found a decline in the number of respondents who could name any of the five freedoms guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Freedom of religion was named by 24 percent of those surveyed, falling from 56 percent from the previous survey. Those who named freedom of the press also declined sharply down by 30 percentage points from 50 percent in 2021.

Around 26 percent of respondents could not name any First Amendment freedoms. And the percentage of respondents who listed the right to bear arms — a right protected under the Second Amendment — as a First Amendment protection tripled from 2021 rising to 9 percent.

Hey, at least they’re aware that the right to keep and bear arms is included in the Constitution, even if they’re not quite sure where it’s actually located. In fact, 82% of those surveyed understand that the Second Amendment protects the right to own a firearm. That’s not a terrible number, especially when compared to the percentage of Americans who could identify any of the rights protected by the First Amendment.

When asked unprompted to name the protections specified in the First Amendment, the number of respondents who could identify them declined, at times steeply:

  • Freedom of speech was cited by 63%, down from 74% in 2021 and 73% in 2020.
  • Freedom of religion was named by 24%, down from 56% in 2021 and 47% in 2020.
  • Freedom of the press was named by 20%, down from 50% in 2021 and 42% in 2020.
  • Right of assembly was named by 16%, down from 30% in 2021 and 34% in 2020.
  • Right to petition the government was named by 6%, down from 20% in 2021 and 14% in 2020.

One in 4 respondents (26%) said they can’t name any or don’t know, compared with 17% in 2021 and 19% in 2020.

The folks at Annenberg don’t offer any theories as to why fewer Americans were able to identify any of the rights enshrined in the First Amendment compared to just a year ago, but it’s worth noting that the survey didn’t find a similar drop when it comes to the Second Amendment. 82% of survey respondents correctly noted that the right to own a handgun is protected by the Second Amendment, comparable to last year’s survey that found 83% of Americans were aware of their 2A rights.

While I’m glad to see that the vast majority of us can at least identify one aspect of the Second Amendment, I do take issue with how Annenberg posed their findings; “82% say it is accurate to state that the Supreme Court has held that a citizen has a constitutional right to own a handgun.”

That may be true, but it’s not all that the Supreme Court has had to say about the Second Amendment. It also found earlier this year that, shockingly enough, the right to keep and bear arms also protects the right to carry a firearm in self-defense. More importantly, these rights don’t come from SCOTUS, but are pre-existing rights that were enshrined in the Constitution because the earliest American citizens were gravely considered about an overreaching government attempting to eradicate them.

The widespread lack of understanding about some of the basics of our form of government are definitely concerning for those of us who are dedicated to fiercely defending our individual freedoms, but I’m at least glad to see that there’s not much debate when it comes to what the Constitution has to say about our right to armed self-defense. Unfortunately, with anti-gun activists intent on ignoring the plain text of the Second Amendment we still have our work cut out for us, but at least we have history and the framework of our government on our side.