CBS Carries NRA's Water On Flawed Gallup Poll

Earlier this week, we pointed out that Politico and CNN had used a recently-released Gallup poll to falsely claim that “support for gun control” had plummeted to its lowest level in decades.

Now CBS is getting into the game, pushing NRA-friendly talking points based on flawed readings of polling data. This morning on The Early Show, anchor Chris Wragge opened a segment on the polling by declaring that “according to a new poll, most Americans are against” gun control. Wragge claimed that this information “may surprise you.” It does, mainly because it isn't true.

As we've noted, Gallup didn't find a majority of Americans opposed gun control. Indeed, according to the poll, 77 percent of respondents want the laws covering the sales of firearms either kept as they are now or made more strict. By this measure, Americans overwhelmingly support gun control.

CBS' bogus report comes as Congress is debating the National-Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, an NRA-backed measure which requires states to honor concealed carry permits issued by every other state, even when the holder would not qualify for a permit under local law. According to polling conducted by a bipartisan team of polling firms, 74 percent of likely voters oppose the legislation.

That doesn't sound like a populace dead set against gun violence prevention measures, but I'm sure the NRA appreciates CBS' efforts to push out their message to the contrary.

The subsequent segment by correspondent Whit Johnson was no better. It was framed around the story of a young woman who, “keeping an open mind,” recently went to a shooting range for the first time and is now a gun owner. Johnson linked this story to Gallup's finding that 47 percent of poll respondents say they have a gun in their home, “the highest number Gallup has reported since 1993.” Later in the segment, Johnson reported that “the number of firearms-related homicides has dropped dramatically” since 1993, then provided a clip of NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox claiming that because that statistic has dropped “while gun ownership is at an all-time high,” this “destroys the argument from the gun control community that more guns equals more crime.”

This argument is fatally flawed for three reasons. First, it ignores the implementation of gun violence prevention measures. In 1993, the Brady Bill was passed into law, providing for a nation-wide system of background checks to prevent criminals and the mentally unstable from getting their hands on guns. While the system is imperfect, nearly two million gun purchase applications have been denied since the bill was signed.

Second, the assumption that gun ownership is actually on the rise is flawed. Gallup recorded findings of 45 percent on that question in 2003, and 44 percent in 2007. The poll has a margin of error of 4 percent. Portraying this as a significant shift doesn't add up.

Gallup's finding is also inconsistent with the far more reliable data from the General Social Survey, the gold standard of survey data. As Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center has noted, this data set indicates that household gun ownership has been on the decline and actually plummeted to its lowest level ever in 2010, with fewer than one third of households reporting that they have a gun in the home.

Finally even if you accept Gallup's numbers at face value, Cox is wrong to claim gun ownership is at “an all-time high.” Gallup found 47 percent household gun ownership in 2011, but a whopping 54 percent in 1993. Back then, we had more guns and more gun crime. Since then, we have fewer guns and fewer gun crimes.