How Gallup Is Wrong on Guns

Post-Newtown, Gallup has been releasing a steady stream of polling and analysis on guns. But their results leave me with more questions than answers.

In this poll released today, Gallup tests six different measures, asking respondents how effective each would be in "preventing mass shootings at schools, like the one that occurred in Connecticut." Only one of the six is a stronger gun law. Two are about increasing a gun presence at schools. And missing from the list are two massive oversights: banning high-capacity magazines and fixing the current background check system.

In this analysis from Monday, Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport reviews past Gallup findings on guns. A post-Tucson survey asked respondents, in their own words, what are "the one or two most important things that could be done to prevent mass shootings from occurring in the United States." In Gallup's analysis: "significantly more Americans named things that were directly related to gun control than things that were not directly related to gun control." I have three problems with this conclusion.

First, a plurality (24 percent) actually said "stricter gun laws." With mental health screening second (15 percent) and every other response in single digits.

Second, Gallup didn't consider "better enforcement of existing gun laws" as "directly related to gun control." Yet fixing the broken background check system and cracking down on gun trafficking are just two "better enforcement" measures supported by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and other groups. [Disclosure, Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a client of my firm, Momentum Analysis. You can read my previous posts on the topic here, here, here, here, and elsewhere.]

Third, rather than compare the 42 percent of respondents who volunteered some sort of stronger gun law to every other response, it might also be helpful to examine those suggesting we make gun laws weaker. Only 4 percent of post-Tucson respondents said "allowing people to carry guns for their own protection" would help prevent more mass shootings. Compare that figure to the scores of politicians in recent days who have suggested exactly that.

I've written before about the use of the word "control" and outdated pollster trendlines on a handgun ban. As you read public polling in the weeks ahead, also make sure the variety of popular proposals are included before rendering judgment. I respect Gallup tremendously, but am troubled by their gun polling nonetheless.