Rocky Mountain News</EM> Issues Bogus Gun Poll

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Rocky Mountain News Issues Bogus Gun Poll

by Ari Armstrong, January 2, 2000

First, Mayor Wellington Webb spent tax dollars to conduct a biased poll in order to further his political career. Now The Rocky Mountain News with television's News 4 has issued a similar poll that is just as useless (January 2, 2000).

The News claims the poll results show Coloradans want more restrictive gun laws. That claim is as dubious as it is irrelevant to just law. America's Founding Fathers intentionally established a Constitutional Republic, not a system of mob-rule, precisely to protect the rights of individuals.

The Bill of Rights still says "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The Colorado Constitution still reads, "The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question..." Colorado politicians have taken an oath to defend the principles of those documents, yet too many are willing to sell out civil rights to anti-gun-owner special interest groups and opinion polls. Jefferson would be ashamed.

The News does not run polls asking people whether they favor new laws restricting the freedoms of speech and of the press, precisely because those liberties too trump majority rule.

But if the News is going to help sponsor a poll, it might make some effort to collect and describe the information of the poll with some modicum of objectivity. (The poll was conducted by Talmey-Drake Research Strategy.)

The poll claims, "The results are based on 602 random telephone interviews with Colorado residents... There is a plus or minus four percentage points margin of error." This claim is ridiculous. The specific numbers for this poll are unavailable, but for most polls only a small minority of people called actually agree to answer the questions. This introduces potential bias into any poll, but the problem is especially acute when the subject is guns, because many gun owners fear private information may be leaked which will eventually be used against them.

Just consider some of the questions asked! The News reports, "Coloradans were divided over whether the government should confiscate all assault rifles..." So some random telemarketer calls up, says they're conducting a survey, asks you if you have any guns in your house, and then asks whether you think police agents ought to bust down your doors to confiscate those guns! That would be a bit like asking 1940s homes in central Europe if any Jews were present, and what they thought about the policy of the government rounding them up. It's simply astounding that the News dares to claim the poll is "scientific."

But of course pollsters are completely objective, right? That's why Paul Talmey, of Talmey-Drake Research and Strategy, the company that conducted the poll, said in reference to honest-citizen background checks and mandatory storage laws, "I would think most legislators could, without too much trouble, support these proposals."

Summaries show the questions to be leading. This introduces even more bias into the results.

The News reports that 94% of those who chose to answer support "requiring criminal background checks for firearm purchases at gun shows." However, such checks are already required at gun shows for most sales. So what precisely did the responders mean? Did they want to extend checks to private sellers, or merely keep the checks already established in law? What would have been the results to the question, "Do you favor laws requiring background checks on all law-abiding citizens for firearm purchases from private sellers at gun shows?" The question describes the same set of laws, but the poll results would have been radically different.

The News also claims that 81% support "raising [the] minimum age to purchase any firearm at a gun show from 18 to 21." But perhaps the News can conduct a new survey with the question, "Do you support denying Constitutional civil rights as described by the Second Amendment to adults ages 18 to 21 by outlawing their purchase of firearms at gun shows?" Would the results be the same?

Another item says 79% support "requiring that guns kept at home are stored so that any children in the household could not get or shoot them." That's an interesting way of phrasing the matter. How about the alternate wording, "Do you support laws requiring that guns kept at home are stored so that home-owners could not get or shoot them when a criminal breaks in?" Does the News, does Paul Talmey, somehow imagine that the results would be the same?

Of course, the fact that leading questions can so easily and so radically affect the outcome of a poll, shows that many peoples' political opinions are superficial anyway. The majority of Coloradans have little clue about what current gun laws even are, much less what the effects of new gun laws would be. Public Choice economists have dealt with this problem in detail. The average person has practically no impact on the political system; therefore, the average citizen takes the time to learn practically nothing about that system. Even to the extent that the poll results are accurate, in large part they don't indicate any deep-seated or well-reasoned beliefs.

This fact is in no way disparaging of the masses. Indeed, rational ignorance is a virtue, for it enables people to save time for those activities that directly impact their lives. In general, most people act wisely and ethically when it comes to their own sphere of life. That's what liberty is all about -- leaving people alone to live their lives as they know best. The problems come when meddlesome politicians (and sometimes members of the media) play the politics of fear to usurp individual rights and increase their own social power.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com