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May 10, 2013

American Public Puts Gun Control Near Last in Priorities; Even As It Overestimates Violent Crime Rate


Gun control may be at the top of President Obama’s agenda, but it ranks next to last on the American public’s priority list for what he and Congress should be working on, according to a survey released Tuesday by the highly respected Gallup polling organization. Some 86 percent of Americans believe that job creation and encouraging economic growth should be the top priorities for our national leaders.

The Gallup Poll was released on the same day as a Pew Research Center analysis of government data on violent crime that showed that homicides using guns has fallen 49 percent over the last two decades and violent crime in general had declined 75 percent in the same period. The Pew analysis tracks well with the U.S. Department of Justice report also issued on Tuesday showing similar dramatic reductions in crimes using firearms and a wealth of other data, about which we previously wrote.

Included in the Pew report were national survey results showing that most Americans are unaware that crimes involving firearms have decreased so markedly. To the contrary, 56 percent of Americans surveyed (46 percent of men, 65 percent of women) believe crimes involving guns have increased. Only 12 percent of respondents said the number of gun crimes is lower, while the remainder said they believed it had remained the same or they simply didn’t know.

Given media attention to the tragedies in Sandy Hook, Conn., and Aurora, Colo. in the last year that may not be surprising. We can’t help but think that the continuing popular culture diet of police procedural programs on broadcast and cable television (there are more than 20 on the air at present), as well as the emphasis on crime stories on national and local television news, have played significant roles in this public misperception, as well.

The wealth of information in the two reports, plus the polling data, give everyone in our industry more talking points and facts on which to base our arguments when we encounter legislators, gun control advocates, members of the media, or even friends who have inaccurate views of public policy issues. It is incumbent upon us to counter the skewed or false arguments when we hear them and we can be confident that we are doing so from a factual basis.

But, it’s not as if we haven’t had the preponderance of the facts on our side already. In front of legislative committees from Providence to Sacramento this year, sportsmen and gun owners have turned up to testify in higher numbers and were in command of more factual information than we heard from those advocating for more restrictions on our choices in firearms and our Second Amendment freedoms.

In the Gallup poll results we see that the public, even if it does not have a grasp on the direction of violent crime, as the Pew Center points out, does clearly recognize that effective policy making is best focused on the large economic issues that truly affect us all. Congress should take note.

We are all appalled by the criminal misuse of firearms, but we should all understand that if we are to further reduce violent crime, doing so begins with working from a data-based perspective. To be sure, that is more difficult than posturing for votes and throwing sound bites at the media.

Larry Keane is senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @lkeane.