Sunday, February 03, 2013

 

Polls: Consent of the Governed, Guns, & Tyranny

Recently, while reading about the post-Newtown national discussion on guns, I came across some interesting poll results from Rasmussen Reports. The first finding is based upon a survey of 1,000 likely American voters and was conducted on October 21-22, 2012. The reported margin of error is ±3% with a 95% level of confidence.

The question asked of the likely voters is: "The Declaration of Independence says that governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed. Does the federal government today have the consent of the governed?" The Rasmussen firm reports: "just 25% of Likely U.S. Voters think the federal government today has that consent. Sixty percent (60%) believe the federal government does not have the consent of the governed. Fifteen percent (15%) are not sure."

Last month, Rasmussen Reports polled 1,000 American adults asking them: "The Second Amendment to the Constitution provides Americans with the right to own a gun. Is the purpose of the Second Amendment to ensure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny?" The reported margin of error and confidence level are the same as the October poll. Here's what the poll revealed:
Two-out-of-three Americans recognize that their constitutional right to own a gun was intended to ensure their freedom.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 65% of American Adults think the purpose of the Second Amendment is to make sure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny. Only 17% disagree, while another 18% are not sure. ...

Not surprisingly, 72% of those with a gun in their family regard the Second Amendment as a protection against tyranny. However, even a majority (57%) of those without a gun in their home hold that view.

Many gun control advocates talk of the right to gun ownership as relating to hunting and recreational uses only.

While there are often wide partisan differences of opinion on gun-related issues, even 54% of Democrats agree with 75% of Republicans and 68% of those not affiliated with either major party that the right to own a gun is to ensure such freedom. ...

Seventy-four percent (74%) of all Americans continue to believe that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of an average citizen to own a gun. Just 17% disagree. These views haven't changed in nearly four years of surveying.
There are at least two problems with the poll question. First, by prefacing the question with the affirmative statement "The Second Amendment to the Constitution provides Americans with the right to own a gun" Rasmussen may have introduced some bias into the results.

Whereas the prefatory sentence in the consent question accurately quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the gun-tyranny question does not; it takes some interpretive license. While it is an interpretation with which I happen to agree, American citizens and courts have long debated what the Second Amendment means--it is not exactly a picture of clarity. It was not until 2008, for instance, that the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the amendment addresses an individual, rather than a collective, right.

Bias is further suggested in how Rasmussen reports their results. "Two-out-of-three Americans recognize ..." does not indicate a neutral understanding of the meaning of the Second Amendment on the part of the pollster. Constrast "think" and "believe" in the reporting on the consent question with "recognize" in the gun-tyranny results and you should see the difference. Generally speaking, professional, scientific polling organizations strive to refrain from interjecting their own views into poll questions and results.

The second, less serious, problem with the question is that, as many gun rights advocates and political scientists and Constitutional scholars, in general, will tell you, the "Bill of Rights" does not provide any rights whatsoever. In the classical Lockean liberal tradition of the main authors of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment merely recognizes, affirms, or guarantees a right already conferred by God or nature.

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