(Reprinted from “The American Rifleman” April 1968)
Do Americans Really Want New Gun Laws?
For years, the campaign to clamp rigid firearms controls on the American public has been buoyed by polls indicating that much of the public wants stronger gun laws. Now there is growing reason to wonder how real this “demand” actually is.
Musing aloud on a Washington, D.C., television station, the Rev. J. Elliott Corbett, secretary of an incorporated crusade that supports the Administration-Kennedy concept of firearms restrictions, asked rather disconsolately why so few of the polled multitudes who presumably favor gun laws take the trouble to write to their Congressmen. One possible answer: People realize increasingly that passing a gun law won't do much to solve the crime problem.
As the Rev. Corbett pointed out, 73% of those questioned in the latest Gallup Poll on whether gun buyers should be required to get police permits were reported as replying “Yes.” That survey was taken last Aug. 20. What went unmentioned was that it showed a distinct decrease in public sentiment for gun permits. The first Gallup Poll on the question, July 12, 1964, registered 78% “Yes.”
Not only has support as recorded by Gallup gone down, but opposition to a gun permit system has increased from 17% to 23%. Some of the earlier “no opinion” element has formed an opinion — and they're against police permits.
While the Gallup trend seems to show clearly that more and more Americans don't care to submit their Constitutional right to possess arms to the decision of some police officer, the statistical theory that the public yearns for tough gun laws has taken an even worse beating elsewhere.
In recent months, television stations in Washington, D.C., Syracuse, N.Y., Dayton, Ohio, St. Paul, Minn., Albuquerque, N. Mex., and Memphis, Tenn., have given audiences a chance to express themselves by “hot line” telephone on how they feel on various proposals to regulate guns
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The total of persons heard from in the 6 stations' telephone polls came to well above 25,-000 in 5 fairly scattered States and the District of Columbia. At least 19,000 of these opposed new gun laws. That figures out at 76% AGAINST where the Gallup Poll reported almost exactly the opposite sentiment, 73% FOR .
While the television sampling did not cover all parts of the country, it did include several large Eastern cities as well as other areas. Perhaps, also, it attracted more response from citizens who believe in the right to bear arms — but, if so, why did the rest remain silent if they really want new gun laws?
The answer may well be that routine opinion surveys sometimes fail to reflect the real public feeling. After all, several predicted Presidential victories for Alf Landon in 1936 and Thomas Dewey in 1948.
Certain polls adverse to firearms ownership, we gather, have relied on questioning fewer than 2,000 carefully selected persons in the entire nation. That's less than one in 100,000. Obviously, the sampling included few if any of the 19,000 who responded “No” to gun laws on television.
The direct conflict in findings between national surveys of “public opinion” and the spontaneous telephone responses of the TV stations is mystifying, to say the least. Perhaps some fact-finding agency ought to look into it.
Meanwhile those who trumpet about the “public demand” for severe gun controls might hit a softer note and recognize that the demand, if there is one, has decreased as fast as people realize that the harassment of law-abiding gun owners will not reduce crime.
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