The gun reform debate is not impenetrable — just ask gun owners

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2021 saw a spike in gun violence that surpassed even the 2020 surge. At least 12 major U.S. cities broke homicide records, police departments nationwide seized record numbers of illegal guns, and mass shootings like the tragedy at Michigan’s Oxford High School continue to dominate headlines. 

If we want 2022 to look any different, the moment is now for serious, sustained countermeasures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. We must not stand silent, yet that’s exactly what Congress seems intent on doing — a silence rooted in the belief that there is an impenetrable divide between gun owners and non-gun owners on gun legislation. But a poll by 97Percent and Beacon Research proves that notion is wrong. 

The poll of more than 1,000 gun owners across the country found that an overwhelming majority support key gun safety policies, including Republicans and National Rifle Association (NRA) members. But most critically, when asked how many of their peers support these policies, the numbers disintegrated.  

As two people on opposite sides of the aisle — who have worked with this kind of data, strategizing on how to move the needle on intractable issues — this disconnect between reality and presumption reveals an opening.  

Eighty-six percent of the gun owners polled said they support universal background checks, with 84 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of NRA members surveyed voicing support. Sixty-seven percent of the gun owners surveyed support “red flag” laws (61 percent Republicans and 57 percent NRA members), which allow police to temporarily remove guns from a person deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Domestic violence offender restrictions, safe storage requirements and distinct markings requirements all polled above 70 percent. 

While other polls have included gun owners in their sample, the 97Percent-Beacon Research poll is one of the only polls to exclusively survey gun owners. This matters because when comparing with polls of the general population, the data suggest gun owners view gun violence as a bigger problem than non-gun owners. For example, Pew Research’s poll from September 2020 found that 48 percent of Americans see gun violence as a very big problem, whereas the 97Percent-Beacon poll found that number to be 70 percent among gun owners. And while a November Gallup poll showed a five-percentage-point drop in support for gun safety measures among the general public (52 percent overall), the Beacon poll demonstrates that gun owners feel differently. 

But the striking misconception the 97Percent-Beacon Research poll revealed is that gun owners assume their peers do not agree with them. For example, 67 percent of those surveyed support red flag laws, but just 26 percent think other gun owners support them.  

It’s not hard to come up with reasons why. From the Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal to the New York gun permit law being debated by the Supreme Court to the stalemate on gun reform in Congress, the news we’re bombarded with every day suggests anything other than gun owners wanting stricter gun laws. And let us not forget that the most well-known and successful special interest group in America — the NRA — has pushed the narrative that gun owners are opposed to any form of gun safety legislation. That’s because they know that any reasonable gun reforms need the buy-in of gun owners. 

It’s time to bring gun owners into the fold. They are the missing piece of the puzzle. One of the keys to passing the Brady Bill and other landmark gun safety legislation was building a wide-ranging coalition that ran the gamut from victims to police officers. It is time to take the next, crucial step in widening that coalition to include gun owners. Imagine gun owners testifying before a congressional committee, calling upon their senators to pass legislation and joining gun safety groups at rallies. 

But advocating for change is a daunting, near impossible ask when you feel like you’re on an island. Joining a coalition is more inviting and realistic when you know you’re surrounded by like-minded folks ready to stand by you. 

That’s why gun owners need to know other gun owners are united in wanting stricter gun laws. Armed with this knowledge, it will ease the pathway to gun owners speaking out and taking control of their own narrative. And it is the responsibility of gun safety organizations to make gun owners feel supported, not marginalized, in advocating for change. Gun owners must be brought into the gun safety conversation, not left out.  

The gun divide is not impenetrable. It’s time we start acting like it.  

Mark McKinnon is a political advisor, reform advocate, media columnist, television producer, and co-host of Showtime’s “The Circus.” He’s worked for many causes, companies and candidates, including President George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain and the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards.  

Richard Aborn is the president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City and a former president of the Brady Campaign. He was a principal strategist behind the passing of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  

Both serve on the advisory board of 97Percent, a new gun safety organization whose mission is to reduce gun deaths in America by changing the conversation around gun safety to include gun owners, conducting and sharing research that challenges conventional thinking, and leveraging technology.

Tags Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act Firearms Gun control Gun politics in the United States Gun violence in the United States John McCain Mass shooting National Rifle Association Public opinion on gun control in the United States Red flag law Republican Party Universal background check

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