The so-called gun control paradox highlights the logical irreconcilability between surveys and political reality. Many authors, including myself, have cited it, probably because it provides a compelling hook to introduce a book or article on guns. Why, goes the paradox, is there not severe gun control in America or a mass movement for gun control, seeing the public so desires gun control as evidenced by surveys since the 1960’s? Answers offered by antigun advocates and scholars are often variants on a stereotype. Accepting gun surveys at face value, they blame organized “special interests” such as the NRA and other gun groups for sabotaging democracy, the public interest, or the greater good with “influence,” as if it were a violation of the American social contract to organize via free association and to petition the government. For a particularly hyperbolic example, the Brady Center has published a report called “The NRA: A Criminal’s Best Friend”. Along this vein, various political science professors discussing gun politics have on various occasions recited to me the maxim, “An organized minority always beats an unorganized majority.” This again implies a lapse in democracy, a majority treated unjustly be a “special interest,” the “gun lobby.”
A far more elegant way to unknot the paradox, however, is to recognize it for what it is: a chimera visible only to those who reify survey artifacts into something they would call a “majority.” The seduction of survey research is, of course, the promise of primary-source mass data that are easily quantifiable. But these beguiling numbers do not necessarily equate with political reality and certainly not with any social movement, viable policy, need, or tangible demand, despite the insistence of those charmed by survey methodology. Antigun advocates and scholars assume proxy authority on behalf of this abstraction. The lack of any American mass movement or mass membership association for gun control underscores a general invalidity of these measurements.
So when the gun grabbers tell you that surveys show that “most” Americans support “common sense” gun control, tell them that you will believe them when they can put together a paid membership organization with more than 50,000 annual members. Or fill the State Capitol rotunda on a Tuesday.