Most Gun Owners Say the NRA Is Off Target

A new survey shows that a majority of armed Americans disagree with the gun lobby on background checks.


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A new survey of gun owners finds widespread support for universal background checks and provides new details on who does and doesn’t support the National Rifle Association. The survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling on behalf of the Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org Civic Action, will bolster claims that the NRA doesn’t represent the views of most American gun owners. Yet it also shows the depth of the NRA’s support among its members as well as Republicans, suggesting that taking on the NRA, as Democratic presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley are doing, is good partisan politics.  

Echoing earlier surveys, this survey finds that the vast majority of gun owners support expanding criminal background checks to cover all firearm purchases. (Currently, federal law does not require background checks for private gun sales.) Among the gun owners surveyed, 83 percent said they support universal background checks. And 72 percent of NRA members say they do.

More than 40 percent of gun owners say they are Republicans; about one-third are Democrats. (The rest are independents.) Support for universal background checks is strongest among Democrats.

Support for universal background checks is strong across racial and ethnic lines. Yet there is greater opposition to them among African American gun owners and minorities lumped into the “other” category.

The survey also asked gun owners how they feel about requirements that gun owners must obtain permits to carry concealed weapons in public. Overall, about three-quarters said they supported these laws, which have been challenged in California and other states.

Nearly a quarter of the gun owners who responded to the survey said they belong to the NRA. (This suggests that NRA members may be overrepresented in this sample. The group currently claims more than 5 million members. Considering that one-third of adults report owning a gun, there are more than 75 million gun owners in the United States. That puts NRA members at less than 10 percent of all gun owners.)

NRA membership is uncommon among Democrats, with just 8 percent saying they belong to the group. The survey also finds that NRA membership is lowest among African American gun owners, with 12 percent saying they’re members. In comparison, 35 percent of Latino and 25 percent of white gun owners say they are part of the group. 

In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Bernie Sanders comments that “the NRA does not necessarily represent the views of gun owners, in general, and even their own members.” He’s half right. According to the survey, a slim majority of all gun owners say the NRA does not represent their interests. However, even though 55 percent of NRA members say they disagree with the NRA’s stance against background checks, 86 percent say the group still represents them. Among non-NRA members, just 40 percent say it does.

The perception of the NRA also splits along party lines. Just 25 percent of Democratic gun owners say it represents their views, while 76 percent of Republicans—who make up the bulk of NRA members—say it does. And the group’s standing among independents is almost evenly split. This breakdown hints that attacking the NRA is probably a winner for Democratic candidates who might fear alienating gun owners in their own party. Nearly 90 percent of Democrats said they’d be more likely to support a candidate who’s in favor of universal background checks, which may help explain why the Democratic presidential contenders have seized on this issue. But will it play with swing voters? It might: More than half of politically independent gun owners say they’d be more likely to support a candidate who’s in favor of expanded background checks.