Mayors Against Illegal Guns' poll proves just one thing: We still have work to do
By Jeff Knox
Mike Bloomberg and his Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) caused quite a stir in the gun rights community recently when they released a poll declaring that gun owners and NRA members support the group's gun control agenda. The poll was conducted by Frank Lutz's company "Word Doctors." The media gleefully reported the poll as indisputable fact while NRA and others cried "Foul," pointing out flaws in the pollster's methodology and challenging the results.
The flaws and distortions are undoubtedly real, but it is important for rights activists to carefully examine this poll to find data we can use to help our cause. In spite of its flaws, this poll demonstrates a serious failure on the part of rights groups and supporters in efforts to educate our less activist brethren. We're not preaching to the choir enough and not getting the right messages through to them.
This fact is clearly shown in the results for poll question number 25 which asked, "How familiar would you say you are with the Supreme Court case Heller v. DC?". I would venture that the vast majority of people reading this column would respond "Very familiar" or at least "Somewhat familiar." Since the Heller decision was without a doubt the biggest gun rights story of the past 2 decades, with extensive coverage in both the gun press and the general media, I would further expect my readers to predict that most average gun owners would be at least "Somewhat familiar" with the case. The responses in the MAIG poll fall well short of such expectations. Among those who identified themselves as NRA members, only 17% said they were "Very familiar" with the Heller case. Non-NRA gun owners responded with a dismal 3% saying "Very familiar." Only 34% of NRA members and 10% of non-NRA gun owners claimed to be "Somewhat familiar" with 19% and 17% respectively saying they were "Only a little familiar" with the case. A full 30% of NRA respondents and 70% of non-NRA respondents said that they were "Not familiar at all" with the case.
Even with skewing, distortion, and "cherry-picking" participants, these results should be disturbing to the rights community. The results attributed to NRA members are about what I would have expected from the general gun owning population and the answers posted by non-NRA gun owners are worse than I would have expected from a random sample of citizens who don't own guns. Those numbers are actually almost exactly the inverse of what I would expect the answers would be from our regular readers.
What this demonstrates is the mistake of assuming that our friends, family and fellow citizens are as interested, concerned, and knowledgeable as we are. We must always remember that we (those of us who pay attention to politics and rights issues) are freaks. Most people – even gun owners – are much more interested in what's on TV than what the Supreme Court has to say about the Second Amendment and we need to act accordingly. We must find the best words to frame each of our issues in the most understandable way and get that message in front of as many people as possible as frequently as possible.
No organization has the wherewithal to do the job all by themselves. It must be a group effort and you are the most important part of the group because you have more influence with those around you than any organization does. One of the ways this particular poll was skewed was by disproportionately loading the sample with females. While there are many female gun owners and activists, there is nothing close to the almost 50/50 split depicted in the polling sample and women tend to be less involved in gun rights matters. That's not sexism, just fact. The Executive Director of our organization is a female and she agrees with my contention. What the numbers suggest is that the polling was conducted during the day with participants qualifying based on their household gun ownership as much as their individual gun ownership, and that an important target audience in need of education is within arm's reach while we're sleeping.
The pollster who developed this poll for MAIG, Frank Luntz, is on the record saying that it is easy to get a person to endorse conflicting ideas by asking the right questions and using the right words. He demonstrated that with this poll, but he also demonstrated that we, the engaged rights activists, need to be doing a better job educating those around us about the critical issues of the day. Perhaps this poll can be used as a teaching tool. I am going to post the entire poll along with some alternate questions and some correct answers to help with that idea. Look for it at www.FirearmsCoalition.org and see if you can use it to start an important conversation with someone close to you.
Permission to reprint or post this article in its entirety is hereby granted provided this credit is included. Text is available at www.FirearmsCoalition.org.