The Northern Maine chapter of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence conducted a straw poll at the Common Ground Country Fair held recently over three days in Unity. While the people who attend the fair are a self-selected group, the results of the poll were strikingly similar to national polls. Many of the results also were surprising.
Fairgoers were asked to weigh in on two issues facing the country on gun use. They cast their vote as a gun owner or non-gun owner. They voted for or against universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, and I compared the results with a national poll published in a 2013 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
A total of 789 people participated in our poll at the Common Ground Country Fair. Of that total, 37 percent were gun owners. In The New England Journal of Medicine survey, 22 percent were gun owners. That is significant when looking at the results.
On universal background checks, we found 91 percent of gun owners and 97 percent of non-gun owners were for background checks on all gun sales. The New England Journal of Medicine found the same spread but lower percentages in its national sample: 84 percent of gun owners were for the checks as were 90 percent of non-gun owners.
Both are startling and impressive statistics. Our findings support this and other surveys that have found widespread support for universal background checks.
Yet the NRA position seems to have more persuasive power than these majorities. They are against universal background checks and, though only 22 percent of the population are gun owners and a huge majority of that population supports universal background checks, Congress still refuses to enact such a measure. That makes no sense at all, does it?
Our larger gun-owning fair sample suggests it is the responsible, sensible thing to do. Why hasn’t it been done? In Maine it was done — almost. LD 1240 narrowly passed the state Legislature last year and was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.
We need more of our state legislators to join those who passed LD 1240 to get this done. We need leadership on this issue, and we would like to see that leadership come from our state and national legislators.
On the issue of banning assault weapons (military-style, semi-automatic weapons capable of shooting more than 10 rounds without reloading) we found some interesting results. While gun-owning fair goers were more supportive than not of banning assault weapons — 59 percent to 41 percent — the spread was larger than the national survey. The New England Journal of Medicine found that 46 percent of gun owners were for banning and 54 percent against.
Some non-gun owners at the fair also were against banning assault weapons. Four percent said they should not be banned and, based on the totals we calculated, 7 percent of non-gun owners said they were undecided or wished to abstain on this issue. It was encouraging to meet people who needed to think more about the issue and felt it was important enough to give it further consideration.
The fact that our sample had a higher percentage of gun owners than the national sample raises some interesting questions. If we further dissect the numbers, we find that gun owners who oppose an assault weapons ban make up a small minority of both the national sample (12 out of 100 polled — 54 percent of the 22 percent who are gun owners) and our Common Ground Country Fair sample (15 out of 100 polled — 41 percent of 37 percent who are gun owners).
The takeaway isn’t only that our fair sample is more pro-gun than the national sample, but that, either way, a small percentage of the population is keeping the U.S. from enacting an assault weapons ban. Why does such a small minority control the decisionmaking?
Most people are supportive of banning assault weapons. That proved to be the case in both the fair and national polls. We found 78 percent of all those weighing in supported an assault weapons ban. The New England Journal of Medicine found 69 percent of the total population in support.
Again, large majorities of people see such a ban as a sensible way to reduce gun violence. Is it not time to get this done, too?
Mary Anne Royal of Winterport is coordinator of the Northern Maine chapter of Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence.