Bishop Chip StokesOn December 10, 2014, just before the second anniversary of the horrific shootings at Newtown Elementary School, Pew Research Center released the results of its most recent survey of gun attitudes in the United States. The Pew headline read “Growing Public Support for Gun Rights.”[1] According to Pew, “For the first time in more than two decades of Pew Research Center surveys, there is more support for gun rights than gun control.” The article continued, “Currently, 52% say it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns, while 46% say it is more important to control gun ownership.” This story generated volumes of headlines which echoed Pew’s own about the support of “gun rights” over “gun control.” I have to confess, I was surprised by this news.

In October, with Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut, I co-authored a theological reflection for Bishops United Against Gun Violence titled, “Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases.”[2] In this paper, we made reference to a July Quinnipiac study which found that “92 percent of voters, including 92 percent of gun owners support requiring background checks for all gun buyers.”[3] In their research, Quinnipiac also asked a broader question, which revealed a distinctive dissonance. When asked: “Do you support or oppose stricter gun control laws in the United States?” significant differences emerged with only 50% of all voters in support.

As Bishop Douglas and I noted, the implications of the Quinnipiac poll were, and are, profoundly important. While American voters remain divided on the question of “stricter gun control laws,” the same voters are incredibly united on the question of universal background checks prior to all gun sales, as well as the need for laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns. Sadly, those at Pew research who managed their December survey on gun attitudes in this country failed to frame their question in an appropriate and thoughtful way. It was reported that Pew’s Director of Political Research later acknowledged the Pew question was flawed, but her statement was half-hearted and did not generate the kinds of headlines, or damage, its original release did.[4]

It is clear that the vast majority of Americans—Democrats, Republican and Independents; gun owners and those who don’t own guns—favor common sense gun laws. The gun lobby, the congress, and state legislatures, armed with misinformation and dubious headlines such as those generated by the Pew Research December poll, continue to obstruct the will of the majority of American people. This affects us all.

On December 12, 2014, just two days after the Pew research story was released, NJ.com, the news website for many of New Jersey’s newspapers, ran a story titled “Tight gun laws, lack of gun violence land N.J. top mark on group’s gun scorecard.” According to the story, New Jersey’s strict gun laws have contributed to the state being ranked among the lowest in the nation for gun deaths.[5] This was good news. On the other hand, the story reported that the majority of gun deaths we do experience in New Jersey are committed with guns purchased in states with lax gun laws, most notably Pennsylvania and states south along the I-95 corridor. The conclusion of the NJ.com story stated, “New public opinion polls indicate the national opinion favors gun rights over gun control,” and cited the Pew Research story of December 10. The problem is, national opinion doesn’t favor gun rights over gun control. Clearly, it’s all in how you ask the question.

The Rt. Rev. William H. Stokes

Bishop of New Jersey

 

[1]  See Pew Research website at  http://www.people-press.org/2014/12/10/growing-public-support-for-gun-rights/

[2] See http://bishopsagainstgunviolence.org/universal-background-checks-for-gun-purchases/

[3]See  http://www.quinnipiac.edu/news-and-events/quinnipiac-university-poll/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2057

[4] See “Pew Admits Flaw in Poll Being Used to Attack Strciter Gub Laws” on the website Media Matters found at http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/12/19/pew-admits-flaw-in-poll-being-used-to-attack-st/201960

[5] See http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/12/tight_gun_laws_lack_of_gun_violence_land_nj_top_mark_on_groups_gun_scorecard.html