It’s long been a popular meme that NRA members are profoundly and philosophically against gun control of any kind. As Charlton Heston so melodramatically roared in his infamous speech at the 2007 NRA gathering – “… from my cold dead hands!” – the notion of a reasonable, fair-minded, pubic safety aware NRA member was an undeniable oxymoron.
[See video for Mr. Heston’s declaration:]
But as the debate roils after the latest mass murder in Newtown, CT, the urgent need to step beyond the usual rhetoric, predictable defenses, and partisan mud-slinging is profound. It has been expressed by many that beyond the true horror of this tragedy is the growing sense of futility about ever reaching any significant compromise toward change. The usual talking points have lost their impact and angry citizens are demanding that the administration, Congress and even local politicians stand up to the seemingly intransigent and bullying NRA.
Which is why there is something surprising and a little compelling about a poll done shortly after the “Batman” theater shooting in Aurora, CO, conducted by prominent Republican strategist and pollster, Frank Luntz. A contact of mine who works with a high-level gun control nonprofit suggested I take a current look at this poll, which was conducted in May of 2012. The results indicate a surprising conclusion, one that, frankly, contradicts the popular meme: instead of “cold dead hands,” it appears a good number of NRA members have raised theirs to say they would support provisions that restrict the sale of guns.
Luntz wrote about the poll, the “Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) Gun Owners Poll,” in The Washington Times in August, giving some background, as well as detailing some of the more surprising results:
In May, MAIG (Mayors Against Illegal Guns) turned to us again to dig deeper into the mindset of gun owners and measure their opinions on several specific policy measures that have been proposed nationally or in some states. We polled 945 gun owners nationwide (margin of error plus or minus 3 percent) dividing the sample evenly between non-NRA-member gun owners and gun owners who were current or lapsed members of the NRA.
Once again, we found that gun owners passionately believe in their Second Amendment rights but also think those rights can and must be balanced with public safety and national security. For example:
- 85 percent of gun owners agree with the statement, “Support for Second Amendment rights goes hand in hand with keeping illegal guns out of the hands of criminals.” Among members of the NRA, even more agreed — a full 87 percent.
- 82 percent of gun owners support requiring a criminal background check of anyone purchasing a gun.
- 80 percent of gun owners support requiring gun retailers to perform background checks on all employees to ensure they are not felons.
- 76 percent support prohibiting people on terror watch lists from purchasing guns.
- 80 percent also agree that concealed-carry permits should be granted only to applicants who have completed gun safety training.
- 78 percent think concealed-carry permits should be granted only to applicants who have not committed any violent misdemeanors, such as assault.
A Huffington Post piece on the Luntz poll also made the point that the results went against conventional wisdom, listing a few of the other findings revealed the following data points as well:
- 74 percent of NRA members believe concealed carry permits should only be granted to applicants who have completed gun safety training.
- 68 percent of NRA members believe concealed carry permits should only be granted to applicants who do not have prior arrests for domestic violence.
- 63 percent of NRA members believe concealed carry permits should only be granted to applicants 21 years of age or older.
- 75 percent of NRA members believe that concealed carry permits should be granted only to those applicants who have not committed any violent misdemeanors.
[To access the full PowerPoint of the MAIG Luntz poll, click here.]
Are you surprised? I was. Surprised and more hopeful than before I read those statistics. Somehow, I missed seeing news of this poll back when it happened and, in light of this most recent massacre and the subsequent debates, its results are both illuminating and timely.
Frankly, given that the membership of the NRA appears more amenable to sensible restrictions than their leadership (or Charlton Heston!), it’s not a stretch to presume it’s the lobbyists and NRA leaders who are digging in their heels to resist new laws and better enforcement. They – and the members not as enlightened or imbued with cultural empathy and concern for their fellow citizens – are the ones screeching about “don’t trample on the rights” of gun lovers to stockpile combat rifles and assault weapons over the reasonable safety allowed kindergarten children in their classrooms. What this poll tells us, however, is that the greater membership of the NRA seems to have the greater good of society more firmly in mind.
With that knowledge, and with our own sense of urgency, we can and must talk about the two-headed dragon of mental healthcare and sensible gun controls. The Newtown shooting offers the clearest conflation of need on both ends of that spectrum: a mother legally possessing a cache of weapons who left them accessible to a mentally ill son … who then used those “legal” guns to kill her and 26 other people, including 20 children, and himself. There can be no more powerful or heartbreaking an example of how both mental healthcare and gun control need to be better structured and implemented.
The evidence is there, per the MAIG poll, to suggest the membership of the NRA is statistically willing to come together with the other side to fashion reasonable and necessary changes to current gun control laws. This is useful knowledge, not to be dismissed; information that opens the door. As Frank Luntz summarized:
Some conservatives will read this and think it’s a sellout to advocates of gun control. Some liberals will read this and think it’s a sellout to the NRA. The fact is, virtually all Americans think that with rights come responsibilities, and gun ownership is no different. Few believe in absolutes, including members of the NRA. […]
Yes, we are a divided nation. But when it comes to keeping illegal guns out of the hands of those who would use them for harm, Americans are much closer than they may realize.
That’s hopeful. Let’s take it to heart and commit to finding the compromises that will safeguard both our freedom and our children’s lives. The numbers say it can be done.