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On the April 18 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash asserted that "public support for tightening gun laws has been steadily dropping" and, in support, added: "In 1990, 78 percent of Americans backed stricter gun laws. Now, it's only 49 percent." However, Bash appeared to be conflating numbers from two different questions asked by Gallup in its long-running poll on gun-related issues (updated in January) and, in so doing, suggested a much larger drop in support for stricter gun laws than polling indicates.
When Gallup asked, "In general, do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, made less strict, or kept as they are now?" 56 percent of respondents answered "more strict" in October 2006 -- the last time that question was asked by Gallup. In 1990, before the implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act -- which requires that prospective gun owners undergo background checks before purchasing a firearm -- that number was 78 percent.
But Gallup asked a second question starting in January 2001 about "gun laws," as opposed to only "laws covering the sale of firearms." In that year, 54 percent of respondents answered that they " [w]ould ... like to see gun laws in this country made more strict." It was that number that dropped to 49 percent in January 2007 -- a decrease of just 5 percent in a poll with a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
Gallup explicitly noted the differing language of the two questions in its most recent summary on "Americans and Gun Control," which notes: "A similar question asked by Gallup focuses on a more general question of 'gun laws' without reference to 'the sale of firearms.' "
From the April 18 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight:
BASH: Democrats are reluctant to pass new gun restrictions, in part because public support for tightening gun laws has been steadily dropping. In 1990, 78 percent of Americans backed stricter gun laws. Now, it's only 49 percent.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE [video clip]: Commonsense gun safety measures --
BASH: Democrats dropped gun control as a national issue after Al Gore was tagged as anti-gun in 2000 and lost big in the South and rural areas.