Why Don’t We Have Stronger Gun Laws? Because We Already Think We Do

Americans are woefully out-of-touch when it comes to how stringent our current gun laws are.

Why Don’t We Have Stronger Gun Laws? Because We Already Think We Do
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YouTube may own the “Shit __ Say,” meme, catalyzed by the popularity of the “Shit Girls Say” Twitter feed and videos. But in the newspaper world, there’s a whole other genre that might be called “Shit Americans Don’t Know About __,” whether it’s the Supreme Court, their subsidized health care, who perpetrated 9/11, or what country the president was born in.


Usually based on a recent poll, these articles serve to illuminate just how little the residents of the world’s lone superpower seem to know about anything that requires lifting one’s gaze beyond the horizon of a 64-ounce soda cup.

The latest topic to fill in that blank: gun control. Guess what? Americans don’t really know anything about our country’s gun laws. All they know is they want to keep enforcing them.

A few highlights from a recent poll of 800 voters that the firm Benenson Strategy Group did for the Democratic National Party and wrote about its findings in the New York Times last week:

  • Many Americans think we require a background check for all gun purchases. But we don’t, even though 90% of all voters are in favor of such a policy.
  • Of those who say they prefer enforcement of current guns laws to passing new ones, 48% said they thought a background check was already required to purchase a gun at a gun show. (It’s not.)
  • A majority of respondents said “they believe that the sale of guns to people on the terrorist watch list is banned.” (In fact, 247 people on that list bought guns in 2010.)
  • One third of respondents “believe that federal law requires authorities to be notified when people purchase large amounts of ammunition in a short period.” (Not true.)

The problem with that lack of knowledge is that the majority of Americans fall into the camp of enforcement of existing laws rather than legislating new ones. But this poll illuminates the fact that some people want to enforce laws that aren’t on the books. As the researchers write in the Times:

The notion that all we need is better enforcement of our current federal laws has been a core argument of the gun lobby for years in its fight against sensible restrictions on guns in our communities. But that argument is a straw man. It masks the fact that many Americans don’t really know what gun laws are on the books and falsely construes that to mean they don’t want common-sense gun laws passed — when they clearly do.

Other recent polling shows support for a ban on both high-capacity magazines and assault weapons among 59% of voters and a ban on semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines among 50% of voters.

About the author

Zak Stone is a Los Angeles-based writer and a contributing editor of Playboy Digital. His writing has appeared in,, Los Angeles, The Utne Reader, GOOD, and elsewhere.