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If you've followed the gun-control debate at all, you may have heard recently that support for stricter laws has fallen significantly in the past three-and-a-half months as the 12/14 slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut, fades from public memory. That claim, trumpeted by cable television, National Review, talk shows and comment threads, is, however, based on two polls, most particularly a CBS News poll showing only 47 percent now in favor of stricter gun-control measures compared with 57 percent in December.

There are three problems with this assessment.

First: it's one poll. A Marist poll (commissioned by MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program) was released early Wednesday showing 60 percent of Americans replying "more strict" to the question: Do you think the laws covering the sale of firearms should be more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?

That's not all. The fact is, the generic strict versus less-strict versus stay-as-they-are questions always elicit weaker support than more specific questions.

As the Center for American Progress has noted in a comprehensive look at this matter:

One of the most consistent findings in gun polling is that support for “gun control” broadly is lower than support for specific tighter gun laws. One reason is the lack of specificity in broad “gun climate” questions. What do respondents think of when asked whether they support “gun control” or “stricter laws covering the sale of firearms”? Are they thinking about a ban on all guns, including hunting rifles? Are they thinking about preventing people accused of domestic violence from getting a gun at a gun show without a background check and then bringing that gun across state lines? We simply don’t know. This is not to say that a broad question on attitudes toward gun laws can’t be useful, but we should simply understand its limitations.
Here's what else was asked in that CBS News poll in the third week of March which found the drop in support for stricter gun control:

Do you favor or oppose a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons—including some rifles, pistols, and shotguns—that have detachable magazines, allowing them to rapidly fire a high number of rounds?"

A total of 49 percent in favor, 49 percent opposed. That's a downward shift of three points from February, which is the same as the margin of error. Also asked:

"Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers?"

A total of 90 percent in favor, 8 percent opposed. In February, the figure was 91 percent.

What's clear when you look at all the polls is that while there has been some slippage when questions about specific measures are asked, it is marginal. The majority of Americans still want universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and a limit on the capacity of gun magazines.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed Apr 03, 2013 at 02:01 PM PDT.

Also republished by Repeal or Amend the Second Amendment (RASA) and Shut Down the NRA.

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