Why national surveys shouldn't dictate state gun laws

Why national surveys shouldn't dictate state gun laws
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The state of Pennsylvania was a pretty pro-gun state for a while, but recent shifts in the state’s politics make it a place we’re going to see a lot more gun laws pass in the coming years, I’m afraid.


Yet a recent news story still made me roll my eyes.

Why? Because the media is using a national poll to justify statewide gun control.

Democrats and Republicans nationally want to see more restrictions on firearm ownership, especially for people with a history of domestic violence or mental illness according to a new survey out of Johns Hopkins University. Pennsylvania has instituted some of those policies but still lags behind other states, experts say.

Researchers surveyed just over 3,000 people, including 1,000 gun owners, about their opinions on laws related to safe gun storage, extreme risk protection orders, licensing requirements, concealed carry permits and other policies. About one quarter were Republicans, 36% were Democrats and 38% were independent voters.

Surveys like this one are important because they capture an accurate picture of where people stand and in turn inform policymakers, said Daniel Semenza, assistant professor and director of interpersonal violence research at the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University Camden.

Pennsylvania currently does not require background checks for gun sales or require firearm purchasers to have a license. The state doesn’t prohibit assault weapons, and it also prohibits any government or law agency to maintain a firearm registry, according to the Gun Control Policies section of the City of Philadelphia Action Guide from 2018. A lawsuit against the state over that issue headed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2022.

The Pennsylvania chapter of Gun Owners of America, and the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association, did not respond to WHYY’s request for comments.


Here’s the thing that WHYY didn’t bother to even consider: Why should a national poll have any impact on state gun laws?

First, there’s the fact that these measures don’t actually do anything to criminals. They still get guns with frightening regularity. After all, Illinois requires a license prior to gun purchases, but bad guys in Chicago still seem to get them just fine.

Yet perhaps more importantly is that the popularity of a law in a national poll doesn’t actually dictate that people in the state favor it as well. This survey looked at 3,000 people. That’s about 60 people per state, on average.

As a result, you’re looking at the opinions of 2,940 people who really don’t get a say in statewide politics. It’s kind of stupid when you think about it.

And that’s if everything is even. The truth is that it’s not. More populace states like California and New York are going to be represented over less populated states.

In other words, looking at what people want on the national level doesn’t tell you what voters want at the state level, and trying to extrapolate it like that may well find you pushing beyond what your constituents will tolerate.


None of which touches on the constitutionality of these proposals.

The Bruen decision made it pretty clear that you can’t just pass whatever you want and ignore the protection granted by the Second Amendment. Sure, some claim otherwise, but read the decision for yourself and you’ll see I’m right.

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