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Polls on handgun bans:

The Sunday Washington Post has an interesting collection of articles previewing Tuesday's oral argument in District of Columbia v. Heller, regarding whether DC's handgun ban and ban on home self-defense with any gun violate the Second Amendment. Among the articles is a poll on American attitudes towards gun ownership and the Second Amendment.

In the WaPo poll, 72% of respondents said that they considered the Second Amendment to be an individual right, not just for militia only. The is essentially identical to the most recent Gallup Poll (conducted Feb. 8-10, 2008) in which 73% of respondents said that the Second Amendment was an individual right, not limited only to militia.

The WaPo poll also asked "Would you support or oppose a law in your state that bans private handgun ownership and requires that rifles and shotguns kept in private homes be unloaded or have a trigger lock?" 59% said yes.

This is a surprising result, since it is strongly contrary other polling results. In the Gallup Poll, for example, you have to go back to 1965 to get plurality support for a handgun ban, and back to 1959 to find support comparable to the level report by WaPo.

Here's the Gallup question, and the results. "Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?"

2007. Oct 4-7. 30% should. 68% should not. 2% undecided.
2006. 32/66/2.
2005. 35/64/1.
2004. 36/63/1.
2003. 32/67/1.
2002. 32/65/3.
2000. 36/62/2.
1999. April. 38/59/3.
1999. Feb. 34/64/2.
1993. Dec. 39/60/1.
1993. March. 42/54/4.
1991. 43/53/4.
1990. 41/55/4.
1988. 37/59/4.
1987. 42/50/8.
1981. June. 41/54/5.
1981. April. 39/58/3.
1980. Dec. 38/51/11.
1980. Jan. 31/65/4.
1975. 41/55/4.
1965. 49/44/7.
1959. 60/36/4.

CBS/New York Times polls have asked "Would you favor or oppose a ban on the sale of all handguns, except those that are issued to law enforcement officers?" The CBS/NYT results are:

April 2007. 33% in favor. 64% opposed.
2000. 34/63.
1999. 43/53.
1994. 46/50.
1989. 40/55.
1981. 43/51.

I don't know why the WaPo results are so different from the others. Perhaps there was some effect from WaPo asking a compound question.

BTW, the issue in Heller is not the trigger lock requirement per se. It's that the there is no exception allowing the gun to be unlocked in a self-defense emergency; in the 1977 case of McIntosh v. Washington, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the home self-defense ban against challenges that it violated equal protection and the common law right of self-defense. The McIntosh court agreed with D.C's lawyers and recognized the statute as an absolute ban on home self-defense with any firearm; this was held to be rational because of the number of fatal gun accidents was (according to the McIntosh court) larger than the number justiable self-defense homicides with guns.

UPDATE: A reader has supplied some graphs of the trends in the NY Times and Gallup polls. If they're too small for you to read comfortably, click on the graph, and you'll get a bigger version.

Elliot Reed (mail):
Nobody ever went broke underestimating the incoherence of the incoherence of the American public's political views. I believe you get solid majorities for both "abortion is murder" and "abortion should generally be legal" too.
3.16.2008 4:18pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
There should just be one "incoherence of" there. But arguably it's an incoherent incoherence anyway.
3.16.2008 4:20pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
Also, that should be "overestimating". Apparently I'm incoherent today too.
3.16.2008 4:21pm
Jamesegfafsdgasdg:

"Would you support or oppose a law in your state that bans private handgun ownership and requires that rifles and shotguns kept in private homes be unloaded or have a trigger lock?" 59% said yes.


Yes, they would either support it or oppose it?
3.16.2008 4:31pm
henri (mail):

BTW, the issue in Heller is not the trigger lock requirement per se, it's that the there is no exception allowing the gun to be unlocked in a self-defense emergency


Need a semicolon, instead of a comma, after "per se."
3.16.2008 4:40pm
Sebastian (mail) (www):
It's because of how they asked the question. I don't think it's really that people's views are inconsistent; it's a horrible polling question. Follow the link, and note that only 30% of people strongly supported. 29% of people somewhat supported. Perhaps this was a reflection of people who didn't believe in a handgun ban, but who agreed rifles and shotguns should be stored unloaded and locked up. The question fails to hint at the self-defense implications, and most folks aren't going to think of that on their own.
3.16.2008 5:03pm
Kevin P. (mail):
The WaPo poll question was a bad question to begin with because it conflated two issues - a handgun ban and a ban on functional firearms. Many of the public would likely view these issues differently.

Also, I suspect that many people don't understand the full implication of the phrase "requires that rifles and shotguns kept in private homes be unloaded or have a trigger lock?" I suspect that most people think that this should be a good practice in general, without realizing that there is no exception for self defense in DC in particular.

Much mischief has been wrought with bad polls and this poll is no exception.
3.16.2008 5:13pm
George Weiss (mail) (www):
Jamesegfafsdgasdg beat me to it
3.16.2008 5:31pm
glangston (mail):
I think you could get the same sort of replies on property rights if you asked the right questions in the right way.

Which makes you happy that they've come up with the novel idea that some rights require strict scrutiny....or they would be so watered down by reasonableness as to be hardly worth mentioning.
3.16.2008 5:54pm
John (mail):
Here's a thought: never trust a newspaper that creates its own news to report.
3.16.2008 6:23pm
wulak:
nobody cares.
3.16.2008 6:36pm
RMCACE (mail):
Jamesegfafsdgasdg,

Given the state of American education on the second amendment, the error you point out may not be an error at all.
3.16.2008 6:58pm
Reasoner:
Not only do people not realize the anti self defense implications of the requirement to keep guns unloaded or locked, one person I told didn't even believe me when I told her that in DC you can't even legally load your gun to save your life. She thought that of course self defence must be an exception to the storage requirements.
3.16.2008 7:36pm
Crane (mail):
Perhaps there was some effect from WaPo asking a compound question.

Maybe because the WaPo specifically mentions that the law would not ban private ownership of rifles and shotguns? I can imagine some people would hear Gallup or CBS ask "should we ban handguns" and assume such a ban would either accompany or quickly lead to a ban on all guns.
3.16.2008 7:43pm
Turk Turon (mail):
I think WaPo would have obtained different results had they asked, "In your opinion, should an otherwise law-abiding adult be threatened with jail and heavy fines for using a shotgun or rifle to defend his children during a burglary in their own home?"
3.16.2008 7:49pm
LM (mail):
I can imagine several reasons for the different result with the WaPo question, but one which (no surprise) hasn't been raised is that some who answered "no" to the Gallup question might have been more amenable if they understood that rifles and shotguns would still be permitted, controlled or otherwise.
3.16.2008 9:09pm
LM (mail):
Crane,

Missed your comment before posting mine.
3.16.2008 9:10pm
Sam Hall (mail):

Here's the Gallup question, and the results. "Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?"

Maybe they thought that "other authorized persons" would cover everybody with a easy-to-get permit.
3.16.2008 9:39pm
theobromophile (www):
The WaPo poll also asked "Would you support or oppose a law in your state that bans private handgun ownership and requires that rifles and shotguns kept in private homes be unloaded or have a trigger lock?" 59% said yes.

Echoing comments above, it sounds like people read that, think, "Oh, wow, that sounds so warm and fuzzy! Kids won't get hurt!" and support such a requirement.

I've met a fair number of people who firmly believe that guns are only used for hunting (ergo, non-hunters don't need guns, and hunters can keep them locked up); no one who is not a hunter needs to own a gun; people do not need to learn how to safely handle guns; and guns are never needed for self-defence. (In fact, I will never forget the uproar I caused back in 2004, when I was still in Boston, when I announced to my friends that I wanted to learn gun safety and shooting.) It is simply beyond many people's comprehension that guns have a very legitimate place in our society, and the non-gun-owning are free-riding on those who own guns, as the gun-owners provide a deterrent effect to potential criminals.
3.16.2008 9:40pm
Waldensian (mail):

no one who is not a hunter needs to own a gun; people do not need to learn how to safely handle guns; and guns are never needed for self-defence.

Notice the interesting starting point for the people who hold these views: they feel that they are entitled to limit what you have, based on THEIR views of what you "need."

Imagine the shock and outrage that would ensue if you told somebody he or she shouldn't have a house, because he or she only "needs" a trailer home.

Oh yeah, and there's no constitutional right to a house...
3.16.2008 10:13pm
theobromophile (www):
Imagine the shock and outrage that would ensue if you told somebody he or she shouldn't have a house, because he or she only "needs" a trailer home.

Oh yeah, and there's no constitutional right to a house...

Hee hee. I'm going to use that some time.

I'll amend your first statement - it's based on what they think I need, and what they think is appropriate. Some of the outrage was that I'm a vegetarian, and, apparently, vegetarians aren't allowed to know how to use guns. If I run across a gun (not unlikely, as 1/3d of American households have them), I should cower in fear until a big, strong, hunting, meat-eating wanna-be-alpha male comes along to save me from it.
3.16.2008 10:31pm
Waldensian (mail):

Some of the outrage was that I'm a vegetarian, and, apparently, vegetarians aren't allowed to know how to use guns.

Incredible. How do people come up with this stuff?!? Are you "allowed" to have a gun if you're gay? A Democrat? Voted for Nader?

The mind boggles.
3.16.2008 11:33pm
theobromophile (www):
Waldensian,

You missed the memo. Guns are for hunting, so vegetarians don't need to know how to use them. Get it?
3.16.2008 11:58pm
Vinnie (mail):
I should cower in fear until a big, strong, hunting, meat-eating wanna-be-alpha male comes along to save me from it.


Sorry, your on your own.
3.17.2008 12:00am
Waldensian (mail):

Guns are for hunting, so vegetarians don't need to know how to use them. Get it?

Wow. This seems to leave a fairly large group -- meat eaters who don't hunt -- in a fairly indeterminate state!!
3.17.2008 12:04am
theobromophile (www):
Wow. This seems to leave a fairly large group -- meat eaters who don't hunt -- in a fairly indeterminate state!!

I'm not sure if it's a per se exclusion for vegetarians, with a rebuttable presumption that non-hunting meat eaters should not have guns, either. (Then again, I'm not sure that I want to apply too much logic to the argument, anyway.)

I'm sure it also depends on what you are hunting.
3.17.2008 1:04am
speedwell (mail):
I'm a vegetarian, a Texan, and a fat geek girl, and an excellent shot with a handgun. Any questions? :D
3.17.2008 1:38am
Vinnie (mail):
I'm a vegetarian, a Texan, and a fat geek girl, and an excellent shot with a handgun. Any questions? :D


Ya busy Friday?
3.17.2008 2:00am
K Parker (mail):
because he or she only "needs" a trailer home.
A trailer home? An single-family trailer home??? Surely you meant a nice standard apartment in a nice standard high-density concrete apartment building, didn't you, comrade?
3.17.2008 4:53am
ruralcounsel (mail) (www):
Elliot Reed wrote:

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the incoherence of the incoherence of the American public's political views. I believe you get solid majorities for both "abortion is murder" and "abortion should generally be legal" too.

Factoring in your rephrasing, I'm not so sure those are incoherent viewpoints. One can honestly believe that abortion is a form of murder (i.e. that a fetus is human, and all of that), AND that it is a justifiable individual privacy issue/right under it's unique set of circumstances.

But, not to deflect the conversation from 2Amendment issues. I was pleased to see, despite the poor wording of some poll questions, that the trend does seem to be favoring less restriction in handgun ownership. The more disfunctional government becomes, the less the public wants to cede their individual rights to government control. Seems healthy enough to me.

Undoubtedly, the large fraction of the US population that has no contact with firearms is uneducated as to the nuances of gun control definitions and regulations ... which makes poll results suspect. Fortunately, the topic of firearms is not so sophisticated that the typical uninformed government official or anti-gun PR hack can pull the wool over the eyes of the the gun-owning public ... and often get taken to task for the sloppy wording or outright errors/misinformation they often dish out.

If the DC gun reg is upheld, that's just one more reason DC should never attain statehood. If we can't trust 'em with a handgun, we sure can't trust 'em with equal political status.
3.17.2008 10:31am
Ken Arromdee:
this was held to be rational because of the number of fatal gun accidents was (according to the McIntosh court) larger than the number justiable self-defense homicides with guns.

A court actually said this? Sheesh.

This is a common bit of anti-gun propaganda. The key is that a gun can be used in self-defense without even being fired, let alone committing any homicide. The correct comparison isn't innocent people killed versus criminals killed, it's innocent people killed versus lives saved from criminals.
3.17.2008 10:32am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
It is simply beyond many people's comprehension that guns have a very legitimate place in our society, and the non-gun-owning are free-riding on those who own guns, as the gun-owners provide a deterrent effect to potential criminals.

And apparently it is beyond your comprehension that this statement is your personal opinion and completely unsupported by any evidence whatsoever (no matter what Clayton, DK and John Lott would have us believe with their adecdotes and shaky statistics).
3.17.2008 11:19am
The Unbeliever (mail):
Guns are for hunting, so vegetarians don't need to know how to use them. Get it?

Does this argument preclude you from taking up archery as well? Not that I take the base argument seriously, but I've always wanted to cite Ted Nugent as a valid counterpoint to something!
3.17.2008 11:40am
theobromophile (www):
J.F. Thomas,

If you exclude evidence that goes against your assumption, of course it will appear as if the counterargument has no evidence to support it.

The Unbeliever,

I don't know about you, but I always slay my vegetables with a bow and arrow.
3.17.2008 1:20pm