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Americans aren't giving up their guns

| Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Despite several years of Michael Bloomberg and others spending hundreds of millions of dollars attacking the NRA, a new Gallup poll shows that non-gun owners have a favorable opinion of the NRA (by 7 percentage points). Moderates are even 17 percentage points more likely to have a favorable opinion.

Overall, the NRA has a significantly more favorable image than either President Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Yet, according to Adam Winkler in The Washington Post, the NRA will inevitably decline in power.

The claim is a simple one: Gun ownership is greatest among rural whites, a group whose voting power is diminishing.

The theory isn't new. Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey, told me in 1997 that the large drop in gun ownership shown by his poll would “make it easier for politicians to do the right thing on guns.” According to Smith's survey, the percentage of homes with a gun has fallen fairly continuously since the 1970s — from approximately 50 percent to 32 percent earlier this year.

But other surveys by Gallup and ABC News/Washington Post show that gun ownership rates have been flat since the 1970s. The number is uncertain for various reasons, including people's willingness to tell the truth to pollsters about whether they own guns. The “hard” data that we do know is that concealed handgun permits and gun sales have soared. Concealed handgun permits tripled from 2007 to 2015. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System shows that the number of gun purchases doubled from 2006 to 2014.

While significant demographic changes have been occurring for decades, there hasn't been any steady increase in support for gun control. Indeed, the opposite is actually true.

According to Gallup, 78 percent of voters supported stricter gun control in 1990. By last fall, that number had fallen to 47 percent.

Look at Pew polls and you'll see that support for stricter gun control has fallen dramatically since the late 1990s. CNN's polls show a similar pattern since 1993.

Last December, the Pew Research Center survey found that 57 percent of Americans believe gun ownership “protects people from becoming victims of crime.” That was up from 48 percent two years earlier. Support for gun ownership especially grew among blacks, rising by 25 percent in just two years.

It's not just the polls. Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of concealed handgun permits held by blacks and other minorities increased more than twice as fast as it did for whites. The growth rate was almost twice as fast for women as for men.

My research shows that blacks benefit most from concealed carry because they are relatively more likely to be victims of violent crime. Gun-control groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince Americans that gun control is the answer. In 2013, gun owners' groups — including the NRA — spent less than one-seventh as much on television advertisements.

But all that spending didn't work. Those “inevitable” demographic changes haven't resulted in a collapse in support for gun rights.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of “More Guns, Less Crime” (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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