PRINCETON, NJ -- A new Gallup poll may explain recent reports of increased gun and ammunition sales in the U.S. Majorities of those who personally own a gun (55%) and of those with a gun in the household (53%), as well as 41% of all Americans, believe that President Obama "will attempt to ban the sale of guns in the United States while he is president."
"Gallup's question documents that for a majority of gun owners, the belief that the president intends to try to ban the sale of guns is apparently quite real."
The issue of Obama's intentions relating to guns has particular relevance given the widespread news reports of sharply increased sales of guns and ammunition. Many of these reports suggest that the reason behind these increased sales is the belief -- right or wrong -- that the president intends to severely curtail the legal availability of guns and ammunition. A recent National Public Radio news story, for example, reported: "Gun dealers and bullet-makers are straining to keep up with record demand for ammunition. Some dealers think it's because of fear that President Obama might limit gun use. Although the president has made no specific proposal, bullets for sportsmen have been scarce for months."
And similar themes were struck in an Associated Press report: "American bullet-makers are working around the clock, seven days a week, and still cannot keep up with the nation's demand for ammunition. Shooting ranges, gun dealers, and bullet manufacturers say they have never seen such shortages. Bullets, especially for handguns, have been scarce for months because gun enthusiasts are stocking up, in part because they fear that President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress will pass antigun legislation -- even though nothing specific has been proposed and the president [in May] signed a law allowing people to carry loaded guns in national parks."
Gallup's question documents that for a majority of gun owners, the belief that the president intends to try to ban the sale of guns is apparently quite real. One is reminded of the sociological principle that if people believe a situation to be real, the consequences are real -- whether or not that belief is factually correct. Thus, although the survey did not ask directly whether those who hold the belief that Obama wants to ban gun sales have acted on that belief in terms of increased purchases of guns and ammunition, a connection between the belief and the behavior is a logical hypothesis.
Those who have guns in the home are demographically and politically distinct from those who do not, so it is not surprising to find that belief that Obama is going to try to prohibit gun sales follows these same patterns. For example, Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats to have a gun in the home, and they are significantly more likely than Democrats to believe that Obama will attempt to ban the sale of guns. Additionally, the belief about Obama's intentions regarding guns is somewhat more prevalent in the Midwest and South than it is on either coast, and is higher among conservatives than among moderates or liberals.
President Obama has never said, either on the campaign trail or after taking office, that he intends to push for a ban on the sale of all guns. Nevertheless, the reports of increased sales of guns and ammunition suggest that certain segments of society -- in particular, gun owners -- are acting as if this belief is true. The data reviewed here show that at least a majority of those who own guns or have guns in the household indeed do believe that Obama will attempt to ban the sale of all guns. It is not possible to establish that this belief has led directly to increased gun- or ammunition-purchasing behavior. But the possibility of such a connection appears quite real.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,013 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 1-4, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.