Anti-gunners love to argue that their opinions are the mainstream ones. They tend to say that everyone really agrees with them except for gun owners and that we really need to get with the times. While some surveys have shown that, others have contradicted the claim.
Honestly, when it comes to public opinion, it really depends on a lot of factors including just how questions are phrased.
Plus, opinions change rather quickly.
Yet it seems that there’s a new survey claiming that most gun owners support gun control.
The majority of U.S. gun owners support measures such as background checks, but report not vocally supporting these policies because they feel disrespected by health advocates.
A new Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) study sheds new light on the opinions and practices of U.S. gun owners, casting doubt on the way gun owners have been portrayed in policy discussions and media, and even how they perceive themselves.
The survey results, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, show that the majority of gun owners support many gun violence prevention policies, including background checks, permit requirements, and prohibitions for individuals with domestic violence restraining orders. But most of these gun owners report that they do not make their support public because they are alienated by the rhetoric of gun violence prevention advocates.
“Most people think gun violence prevention is a contentious issue, but our survey reveals that gun owners overwhelmingly support policies such as universal background checks and red flag laws,” says study co-author Claire Boine, a research scholar at BUSPH.
These numbers come from the 2019 National Lawful Use of Guns Survey which asked 2,086 admitted gun owners about their opinions.
Nearly 70% of gun owners reported that a reason for their reluctance to engage in gun violence prevention was that they feel alienated because they perceive gun control advocates as blaming them for the gun violence problem, not understanding gun ownership, and not understanding much about guns.
Which is certainly accurate.
However, does that mean these people represent gun owners at large about the rest? Well, maybe not.
You see, the panel wasn’t a bunch of random people selected out of the phone book. No, these were people who signed up on the site KnowledgePanel, which means they’re people who were interested in being surveyed. Now, that might not sound like a big difference, but it also may suggest a part of their psyche may have wanted to be asked about gun control.
This is something the researchers acknowledged.
The primary limitation of this paper is the possibility of selection bias, both in terms of the representativeness of the initial panel and potential nonresponse bias. Previous research has demonstrated that the KnowledgePanel produces estimates that are nationally representative21 and the demographics of this sample are similar to those of gun owners nationally in the General Social Survey.10A comparison of survey respondents and nonrespondents revealed that there were no differences in terms of political party or ideology. The survey completion rate of 57% is excellent for an Internet panel survey and is far higher than the range typically seen with nonprobability, opt-in panels (2%–16%).22
So, while KnowledgePanel does tend to represent the public at large, there is an anomaly with regard to the response rate. That may suggest a minority clamoring to be heard rather than representative of gun owners at large.
However, while the researchers acknowledge the possibility of selection bias, they don’t seem to really believe that to be the case. (From the first link above):
Ironically, only 8% of survey respondents identified themselves as being like the typical gun owner, according to the survey. “The NRA pulled one of the biggest illusions in history by making 8% of gun owners feel like they are the majority, and the other 92% feel like the minority. The NRA does not represent gun owners in this country, and it is time for the media and policymakers to give a voice to the silent majority,” [study co-author Claire] Boine says.
And that, of course, represents all you need to know about the researchers.
The National Rifle Association represents millions of people. Namely, their membership. There are other gun owners who aren’t members simply because they think the NRA is too extreme. Others won’t join because they think the NRA is too willing to compromise. To say they’ve pulled an “illusion” is to accuse them of something akin to fraud. That’s simply not the case.
As for the study, it should be noted that we’re still missing some key information. In particular, what the questions are.
For example, many gun owners support background checks for new gun purchases at gun stores. A question that’s improperly phrased may make a respondent think of these background checks only to have the study authors decide they really support universal background checks. That’s why we need the actual questions; so we can determine whether the study left room for misunderstanding or tried to ask leading questions.
While I’m sure the anti-gunners will make much of this study, they shouldn’t. Right now, it’s mostly sound and fury, signifying nothing.