By: Frank Luntz and Todd Barrett - January 23, 2010 - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The culture war over the right to bear arms isn't much of a war after all. As it turns out, there is a lot everyone agrees on.
A new poll of gun owners and National Rifle Association members makes it clear that they share many attitudes and beliefs with Americans who don't own guns. In particular, the vast majority of gun owners not only believe that law-abiding Americans have the right to own guns, but they also believe that government ought to be doing more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
The poll, conducted by The Word Doctors, a national research and communications firm, and commissioned by the bipartisan coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, shows that gun owners in general and NRA members in particular share the belief that commitment to the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with more vigorous law enforcement and common-sense solutions that prevent criminals from getting guns.
For instance, 69% of NRA members and 86% of non-NRA gun-owners support closing the "gun show loophole." The loophole allows some vendors at gun shows to sell guns without conducting the federal background checks that all licensed gun dealers perform. Gun shows provide hunters, collectors, sportsmen and gun enthusiasts with a great place to shop - but as the Department of Justice has reported, 30% of guns in illegal gun-trafficking cases are linked to gun shows.
Mayors of small and large cities and police from throughout the country strongly support closing the gun show loophole. Now we know that gun owners - including NRA members - do, too. The only question is: Are their elected representatives listening?
The poll also found support among NRA members and other gun owners for numerous other policies to strengthen safety, security and law enforcement, including allowing the FBI to block gun sales to individuals on the terror watch list, requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen guns to police and providing local police departments with more data analysis of gun trafficking patterns.
The poll confirms what is almost always true: The American people have far more common sense than the politicians in our state capitols and in Washington. They support policies that solidify and protect their Second Amendment rights while also protecting their communities from criminals and illegal behavior. And they recognize that more can be done within the bounds of the Second Amendment to punish the guilty and protect innocent lives.
So, why has the "culture war" over guns remained a media mainstay?
In politics, myths are hard to slay. In this case, that is true not only because conflict makes for good copy but also because the appearance of conflict is real, since the NRA has not (yet) supported the common-sense policies backed by gun owners and non-gun owners alike. And many legislators, fearful of the gun lobby's wrath, have toed the line.
But the new poll should be a wake-up call for legislators and the NRA leadership alike.
For legislators, the poll shows that gun owners will overwhelmingly back them on common-sense gun policies to prevent and punish illegality as long as the Second Amendment is protected. And for the NRA leadership, it shows that efforts to defeat these policies will be highly unpopular - even among the organization's own members.
After a bruising partisan battle on health care, it might seem strange to suggest that gun laws - long-considered a third-rail political issue - could bring all sides to the negotiation table. But centrists in both parties have an opportunity to join the American people in recognizing the culture war over guns is more myth than reality.
Frank Luntz, a Republican and principal of The Word Doctors, is a pollster whose clients include more than two dozen Fortune 500 companies and CEOs. Tom Barrett, a Democrat, is mayor of Milwaukee and a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan coalition of more than 450 U.S. mayors.