Friday, May 1, 2009

Pew Research Survey Shows Increasing Support for Gun Rights

Pew Research has released a new survey that clearly shows support for our Second Amendment rights is growing. While the Pew Research Survey doesn’t show exactly the same long-term time trends as the recent Gallup Poll I covered in April, it shows similar demographic patterns. The article covers both gun control and abortion, and in my opinion misleadingly indicates that both have moved in a “more conservative direction over the past year.” While abortion is an issue that breaks down readily along liberal/conservative lines, support for the Second Amendment isn’t monopolized by the political right. Social libertarians are also strong proponents of Second Amendment rights, and quite frankly I’d like to see the issue become non-partisan as the Constitution only empirically supports one interpretation.

The Pew Research survey noted the following:

“For the first time in a Pew Research survey, nearly as many people believe it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns (45%) than to control gun ownership (49%). As recently as a year ago, 58% said it was more important to control gun ownership while 37% said it was more important to protect the right to own guns.”

That we could have such a large swing in one year leads me to wonder how representative Pew’s sample was last year. Their current numbers tally fairly well with the Gallup Poll, but last years would mark an outlier. While Second Amendment supporters don’t yet represent a majority in this poll, these are the best numbers ever reported on this particular survey. The previous best showing was in 2003 when 54% supporting more gun control with 42% supporting individual rights.

Several key demographic trends were highlighted in the Pew Research Survey. While more men and more women support protection of firearm rights, the gap is widening. Last year’s poll had 30% of women responding that it was more important to protect gun rights, whereas this year that number has increased to 33%. Last year, 46% of men indicated that it was more important to protect gun rights whereas this year 57% indicated it was more important to protect gun rights.

The political trends are interesting with a mix of expected and unexpected results. Leaving out the “no opinions,” Republicans support gun rights by a 65% to 31% margin, a 6% improvement from last year. Democrats still respond poorly with only 26% supporting our rights, though that is a 3% improvement from last year. The major surprise is the change in the minds of the independent voter. In 2008, gun control was favored with 56% believing it was more important to control gun ownership as compared to 39% supporting gun rights. That has flipped by a staggering 9% in 2009 with a clear plurality supporting the Second Amendment (48% to 45% margin).

Support among African-Americans for firearm ownership remains weak with only 20% supporting gun rights. Individuals with a less than high school education also respond in favor of additional gun control with only 32% supporting firearm rights. However, support among high school graduates, individuals with some college, and college graduates is growing at a strong pace (+10%, +7%, and +5% respectively). Support for our Second amendment rights is also growing in most geographies except the “East.”

While these results are certainly encouraging, we have to keep these trends moving in the right direction. The Pew survey has been notoriously noisy over the years and any gains could evaporate next year. The survey also underscores where we, as Second Amendment supporters, have been successful in convincing the public that our liberties must be preserved and where we have not been successful. We have made great strides among independent voters and people with a high school or college education. Unfortunately we are not reaching women or minorities well at this point. We must break through in these areas and understand why gun control legislation still looks attractive to these groups, even with all of the data against it. Outreach and taking people shooting are effective tactics, but I believe we need a more far-reaching strategic approach to ensure our liberties are secured for future generations.

Until next time!!!

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