Dispelling the 90% Canard

Since when do 90% of Americans agree on anything?  Yet somehow, a push poll stat has wormed its way into the debate over firearms.

The problem with polls are that you can force a desired outcome from them. And both sides of any debate are capable doing such a thing.

However, this particular CBS News/New York Times Poll has garnered attention because it has been oft repeated by the President and many others trying limit our 2nd Amendment rights.

So, what did this poll consist of? The only question asked of 1110 adults nationwide was:

Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers?

That’s it. No nuance; just an answer in search of a question.

So, for the record, we do have the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. It was signed into law over 19 years ago. It “requires that background checks be conducted on individuals before a firearm may be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer…”  It also established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (aka NICS).

The only exception to this federal rule is private sales of firearms. That is, if I wanted to sell my privately, legally owned firearm to anyone else legally elligible to own a firearm. If I suspect or know that someone cannot legally posess one (like my neighbor with multiple felonies), I am prohibited from selling it to them.  If unlawful activity were to occur as a result of that individual obtaining that firearm, it would inevitably point back to me, and I would face federal charges. Some states, themselves, prohibit private sales without background checks.

I think its safe to assume that the majority of Americans gun owners are responsible, and feel their government should trust their discression when it comes to private sales.  Or, perhaps they don’t desire to pay a premium for a brand-new firearm from a dealer. So, they seek out folks they know in their community, or someone they can establish trust with, to purchase the type/make/model of firearm the desire for less than they’d pay at a formal dealer.  And, again, the majority of Americans feel they should be treated as adults to make these decisions.

To that end, what the poll DIDN’T ask was…

 “Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all sales, including private sales of guns (aka private property) ?”

I think we would be seeing some different results with this improved wording. So, I think we can speculate that the pollsters in question knew that such a phrasing would not obtain them the results they wanted.  I mean, hell, I’d have a difficult time saying “no”… though in the back of my mind I would immediately question, “do they mean private sales, as well?”

Follow-up questions, encapsulating the consequences of such action, would have shaped a different outcome, as well. Questions about filling out a 4473 or other FFL-type paperwork and paying a small ransom just to file and verify said information through NICS. These are the kinds of things that most folks oppose.

If there was a way to check, leave zero paper-trail/footprints, and cap costs to what the transaction of information actually costs (few dollars at best), I think you might find more support.  However, you’d have to do something to overcome the current level of distrust you, the politicians, this tact has exacerbated.

Worse, though, was the language of the Machin-Toomey bill. I’ll let Professor Volokh explain.  For TL;DR types…

The result of the disparity is “pro-gun” provisions which are actually very strong anti-gun provisions: The supposed ban on federal firearms registration authorizes federal gun registration. The supposed strengthening of FOPA’s interstate transportation protection exempts two of the worst states (the reason why FOPA was needed in the first place), and provides any easy path for every other abusive state to make FOPA inapplicable.

Anyway, folks ought to stop throwing this figure around. It’s not remotely representative, the response was decidedly shaped by the question, and as a result, when many hear it mentioned, they tune out.  It’s a subtle way of saying, “I’m not prepared to work with you on our rights”.