Support for gun control drops as voters learn the devil in the details

AP Photo/David Sharp

Later today Dr. John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center will be joining me on Cam & Co to talk about his new research showing that armed citizens stop mass shootings far more frequently than official FBI statistics would indicate. That’s not the only fascinating bit of data that Lott and his team have uncovered recently when it comes to Second Amendment issues, however. In a new piece at RealClearPolitics, Lott highlights the findings of a recent survey conducted on behalf of the CPRC that examined support for red flag laws and found that the more folks know about how Extreme Risk Protection Orders work in practice, the less likely they are to want them on the books.

People initially answered by a two-to-one margin that they support red flag laws (58% to 29%), with the strongest support coming from Democrats, the wealthy, blacks and Hispanics, and people aged 18-29.

However, after being told that there are no court proceedings before an individual’s guns are taken away, and that there are no mental health care experts involved in the process, support changed to opposition (29% to 47%). Strong support plummeted from 34% to 14% and strong opposition rose from 18% to 29%.

Finally, people were asked if they prefer “involuntary commitment” or red flag laws. They were told that involuntary commitment laws provide for evaluations by mental health care experts, that an emergency court hearing takes place before a judge’s decision, and that a lawyer is provided if the person can’t afford one. They are also told that, under such rules, judges have a range of less extreme options, such as mandatory outpatient mental health care and weapon confiscation.

Survey respondents favored involuntary commitment by a 40%-to-33% margin. Only Democrats, the wealthy, blacks, and Asians supported red flag laws as their preferred option.

I’m so glad that Lott decided to not only poll general support for “red flag” laws, but to follow up and actually explain how these laws work. I’m firmly of the belief that one of the reasons some gun control laws poll as well as they do with the general public is that most folks (especially those who don’t own a gun themselves) have no clue about how these laws are implemented. Support for universal background checks routinely reaches 80% or more in polls, but do you think that would be the case if survey respondents were also asked questions like “Do you believe transferring a firearm to a friend without conducting a background check should result in prison time”? I doubt it. Just look at what happened a few years ago when both Maine and Nevada had voter referendums on universal background checks. Neither received anywhere close to 80% support, with the Nevada measure squeaking by with about 51% of the vote and the Maine referendum going down to defeat 48-52. Once voters started getting information on how these laws would work in practice, all of a sudden they became far less popular.

But Lott says ignorance is just part of the problem; misinformation is another factor that artificially drives up support for gun control.

In April, the CPRC hired McLaughlin & Associates to survey what people thought the percentage of violent crime committed using guns was. They found that those most strongly supporting gun control dramatically overestimated the percentage of violent crime committed with guns. While the average Democrat estimates that 56.9% of violent crimes involve guns and the typical Republican gave an answer of 37%. (The actual rate is less than 8%.)

If you believe that the vast majority of violent crime involves guns, you may be more inclined to think that the answer to reducing violent crimes lies in targeting gun ownership. If, on the other hand, you are aware that more than 90% of violent crimes do not involve the use of a firearm, you’ll probably want policies and programs that focus on the violent offenders themselves and not inanimate objects.

The facts are on our side, which is why so many gun control advocates rely on emotional arguments that promise safety if we’re only willing to take “commonsense” steps to deprive millions of Americans of their right to armed self-defense. Armed with knowledge, however, it appears that even non-gun owners are willing to change their mind about the effectiveness (and constitutionality) of anti-gun measures.