Businessweek Dismisses Gun Violence Prevention Push On Basis Of NRA Media Myth

Paul M. Barrett, a senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek, cherry-picked polls on gun violence to suggest that the National Rifle Association will be able to block proposed gun violence prevention measures. According to Barrett, who authored a book about the rise of Glock as a popular firearm manufacturer, gun violence prevention proposals are unpopular with the public and the “NRA wins because it's popular with a broad swath of Americans.”

Barrett's article is typical of a narrative in the media overemphasizing the NRA's clout. In the wake of the December 14 massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, traditional media have suggested that the NRA will remove from office politicians who favor gun reforms; even though the NRA's massive spending during the 2012 elections was almost entirely ineffectual.

Contrary to Barrett's assertion about NRA popularity, a poll released yesterday found that a plurality of the public holds a negative view of the NRA. Furthermore, specific gun violence prevention proposals, such as making background checks on gun purchases mandatory, are supported by the vast majority of NRA members and the public at large.

In his January 10 article, Barrett writes that "[f]ifty-four percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the gun lobby," relying on a Gallup poll conducted between December 19-22, 2012. More recent polling, however, demonstrates that the NRA has seen a drop in support following the Newtown massacre. According to a poll released on January 9 by Public Policy Polling, 45 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the NRA, while 42 percent have a favorable view. An earlier poll conducted by PPP between December 18-19, 2012, found that the NRA had a 48 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable rating, evidencing a recent decline in popularity.    

Barrett also claims that because of a Gallup finding that 45 percent of Americans live in a home where somebody owns a firearm, the NRA has a “broad base of support” and it can “afford to go silent” in the wake of shootings like the Newtown school massacre. Most gun owners, however, are not members of the NRA, and when polled, they overwhelmingly support gun violence prevention measures opposed by the NRA.

A July 2012 poll conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of gun owners who were not members of the NRA were in favor of performing a background check on anyone purchasing a gun. The NRA strongly opposes universal background checks, and has used its media arm, NRA News, to downplay the public safety concern involved in allowing dangerous individuals to obtain firearms without undergoing a background check. A January 2011 CBS News/New York Times poll found that 63 percent of Americans, including 58 percent of gun owners, favored banning high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Barrett goes beyond exaggerating the popularity of the NRA to suggest that gun violence prevention measures are unpopular with the public at large, specifically citing a December 2012 Gallup poll that found 44 percent of Americans supported an assault weapons ban and 49 percent opposed.

Other polling conducted before and after the Newtown mass shooting demonstrates that the Gallup poll is more the exception than the rule on assault weapons ban polling. A December 17-18, 2012 CNN poll, conducted in a similar time frame to the Gallup poll, found that 62 percent of Americans favored an assault weapons ban. A PPP poll conducted between December 18-19, 2012 reached an almost identical result, finding 63 percent in favor of an assault weapons ban. CNN polls conducted in August 2012 and January 2011 also both found majority support for an assault weapons ban. A June 2011 Time magazine poll similarly found 62 percent of Americans supportive of an assault weapons ban.

In his article, Barrett also makes the claim that “popular passion for gun control has waned.” But polling on specific proposals indicates support for gun violence prevention measures remains strong among the public. For example, the same Gallup poll cited by Barrett for his claim about the popularity of assault weapons bans found that that 92 percent of Americans support requiring background checks to be conducted at gun shows. The poll also found that 62 percent of those surveyed were in favor of banning both the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines like the ones used in the Newtown massacre.