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Will Gun Owners Get Caught Sleeping?

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CNN polling shows the same general trend. In 2009, 39 percent favored stricter gun control laws (whereas 50 percent did so in 2000). Keeping gun laws the way they are now was supported by 46 percent, and 15 percent said that the laws should be relaxed (only 9 percent thought so in 2000).

The declining support for “stricter” laws in the Gallup/Harris/CNN polls is good news, indicating that most of the moderate public no longer believes that stricter laws are needed. The percent of the public that wants “stricter” laws is only about 13 percent higher than the 30 percent hard core that still want to ban handguns. Many of the moderates who in the early 1990s favored “stricter” (but not prohibitory) laws may be satisfied with the national instant check system, which did not exist in 1990.

While pressure for national anti-gun laws has been reduced, a serious problem remains: In the corridor of states from Baltimore to Boston, and in California and Hawaii, a large percentage of the American public live under gun laws that arbitrarily discourage gun ownership and defensive gun carrying. Chicago, New York City and the District of Columbia are even worse. Such laws are obviously dangerous to public safety in those jurisdictions. They are also a threat to gun owners everywhere.

By discouraging gun ownership, the oppressive laws reduce the long-term number of Second Amendment activists. This reduction changes the political calculus—so that being a relentless anti-gun advocate may be advantageous to politicians from those jurisdictions. Those politicians, in turn, work hard, and sometimes successfully, to impose nationwide the bad laws from their home states or cities. New York City’s Charles Schumer and San Francisco’s Dianne Feinstein are perfect examples.

In the long run, the only thing that will prevent the election of future generations of Schumers and Feinsteins is reforming the gun laws in places like New York, California, Chicago, New Jersey and Massachusetts, so that gun owners in those areas are no longer a small and easily persecuted minority.

An enduring problem for Second Amendment rights is public ignorance about guns and about existing gun control laws. Pollsters rarely attempt to find out what respondents actually know about guns and gun laws. One poll that did was conducted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology and reported in the Newark Star-Ledger on Feb. 23, 2003.

For six years, the New Jersey state legislature was engaged in a high-profile debate on “smart guns,” with a smart
gun mandate being enacted in 2003. Eighty-three percent of New Jersey residents favored the mandate. But as the Star-Ledger reported, “one big detail apparently escaped nearly two-thirds of those polled: The technology for such a weapon has yet to be developed.” Sixty-three percent of New Jersey residents thought that “smart guns” were already in existence.

A “smart gun” is supposed to use advanced technology, such as palm-print readers in the grip of a handgun, to prevent the gun from being used by an unauthorized person. Yet despite millions of dollars in government funding for “smart gun” development over the last 15 years, such guns have never advanced beyond the prototype stage.

The New Jersey law will forbid the retail sale of all ordinary handguns once the state attorney general certifies that so-called “smart” handguns are on the market. Perhaps some of those New Jersey residents who favored the mandate might have thought better if they knew that the mandate was for something that has not been invented and that, if it ever does come to market, there is no guarantee that it will be reliable enough to depend on in a sudden emergency.

Public ignorance also accounts for support for other prohibition measures. According to a 2009 CBS/New York Times poll, 54 percent of Americans favor a ban on so-called “assault weapons.” Almost half of persons who have guns in their homes also favor the ban, according to that research.

That’s consistent with an April 2011 poll by NBC and The Wall Street Journal that found 53 percent of respondents favoring a ban. The current figures are actually an improvement from 1991, when 75 percent wanted a ban.

As readers of this magazine know—but many other Americans, including many gun owners, do not know—so-called “assault weapons” are not in any way more dangerous or powerful than other firearms. They are simply a subset of semi-automatic firearms that work the same as any others. Two decades ago, only about a quarter of the American public understood the truth. Over two decades, the NRA has apparently been able to inform an additional 20 percent. Yet obviously the national media, which has been even more biased and inaccurate on “assault weapons” than on other gun issues, has succeeded in keeping the majority of Americans convinced of something that is not true at all.

Polls have also shown large majorities, including many gun owners, favor gun registration. What much of the public apparently does not understand (and the media has not told them) is that ever since the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, every retail gun sale is recorded at the point of sale by the Form 4473 that the gun buyer must fill out. That form is retained by the dealer, and may be viewed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) whenever it is conducting a bona fide criminal investigation. The forms may also be viewed by BATFE during annual dealer compliance inspections.

Obviously, there is still much work to be done in overcoming media misinformation of the American public.

Winning the culture war also depends, in the long run, on maintaining and growing a social base of tens of millions of gun owners—and tens of millions more people who may not own guns personally, but who have had enjoyable experiences using guns occasionally—who understand the basics of how firearms work and who are, therefore, supportive of gun ownership.

Thus, everything that NRA volunteers do to promote a healthy and responsible gun culture in the United States is, in effect, working to defend the Second Amendment. Educating the public in safe and responsible firearms use has been at the heart of the NRA since its founding in 1871. Today, that work is even more important.

There is no other constitutional right whose survival is so closely tied to a civil rights organization as the Second Amendment’s survival is tied to the NRA. Without a thriving NRA, Second Amendment rights would already have been obliterated, replaced by an English-style limited privilege to own some “sporting” firearms.

Thus, it is essential that the NRA itself continue to enjoy broad public approval, which has been the norm during the NRA’s 140 years. A 2005 Gallup poll found that the NRA is viewed favorably by 60 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 34 percent—an improvement from a 51/39 split in 2000.

The leadership of the late Charlton Heston played a starring role in the American public’s increasingly favorable view of the NRA. However, favorability also depends on the individual actions of every single NRA member. When a hunter with an NRA cap spends an hour helping a hiker get her car out of a ditch, that shows exactly what kind of people make up the NRA. Conversely, if someone with a pro-gun bumper sticker on his car drives in a rude, aggressive or dangerous manner, the driver has, in effect, turned himself into a mobile advertisement for gun control. So, especially when you are wearing or displaying the proud name and colors of the National Rifle Association, live up to the high standards of responsibility that the NRA embodies.

Polls confirm that pro-rights forces have made tremendous progress in the culture war of the last several decades. Yet we still have far to go before Second Amendment rights will truly be secure.

Giving up on Second Amendment activism now would be as foolish as if the Continental Army and the militias had disbanded after the great victory at Saratoga in 1777. Years of struggle are still ahead if we really do mean to preserve our inalienable rights. If we stop fighting now, all the hard-won gains of the last decades could speedily be lost.

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