Do 8-in-10 Americans think owning a gun is not a right?

Pollsters have been asking questions about guns, and their findings would appear to indicate that there is no major debate going on this country about the absolute right to own a gun under the second amendment. Any argument about that is taking place between a massive pro-regulation majority, and a very small but also very vocal anti-regulation minority that has puffed itself up so large and impressive that we’ve been tricked into believing that this is a 50/50 fair fight.

Polls all show a consensus that the mentally ill should not be allowed to own firearms. Pew has it at 80-16, which raises two big questions.

First, who are the 16% that have no problem with mentally ill people having guns? Did they misunderstand the question? 16% in a country with say ~170 million adults (if not more) is 27+ million people. In another debate for another time, it’s clear that there are a lot of unreasonable people out there with not an ounce of common sense and they are probably driving most of these ridiculous debates.

Second, if you support banning a certain segment of the population from owning guns, like felons or the mentally ill, isn’t it your implicit belief that the second amendment is not a universal right to own guns? How can it be, if you want to deny guns to certain types of people?

I’d rather not see the verbal gymnastics that people would engage in to try to explain away the contradiction. Yet the conclusion as far as I can see is that 80% of Americans (at least implicitly) do not think that guns are a universal, unbridgeable right. That places recent conservative-majority Supreme Court rulings to the contrary well outside mainstream thought in this country, and shows that the “gun debate” in Congress a classic example of Congress legislating based on its own beliefs and for its own best interests, rather than doing what they were elected to do.

Pew even asked the big question outright, protect the right to own guns or control gun ownership. Control won 51-45. Perhaps this is why rights advocates are so touchy about having a gun debate right after tragedies like Sandy Hook: they know they’ll lose that debate if they don’t shout everyone down.

Other things we’re learning from polls is that people favor more armed guards in schools and oppose arming teachers; there’s massive support for background checks even on private gun sales; people support banning assault weapons by 10-15% and high-capacity magazines by slightly less; and 2-in-3 support a federal database to track all guns, an idea the ATF and DEA have been begging for for decades that the gun lobby has managed to easily swat away. The ATF in particular pointed to that loophole as the primary reason that they couldn’t arrest many gun traffickers during operation Fast and Furious. It seems Americans want that loophole closed for good.


About Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.