It's emerged as one of the go-to talking points for pro-gun advocates like National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre. Why should we institute new gun laws, they argue, if we aren't even adequately enforcing the laws that are already on the books?
But a recent survey conducted by Democratic pollster Benenson Strategy Group on behalf of the Democratic National Committee revealed that Americans actually know very little about existing gun laws, and many believe the laws are much stricter than they really are. The pollsters detailed some of their findings in an op-ed published Sunday in the print edition of the New York Times.
The most striking part of their survey focused on just respondents who said they preferred the government to do a better job of enforcing current laws rather than writing new ones.
In one instance, the pollsters found that "a clear majority" believed that people on the government's terrorist watch list were banned from buying firearms while another 29 percent said they weren't sure. Yet a federal watchdog reported a few years ago that hundreds of people on the terrorist watch list not only were able to buy guns legally but also passed background checks required for certain purchases.
In another instance, the poll found that slightly less than half didn't realize that military-style assault weapons were legal.
"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," pollsters Joel Benenson and Katie Connolly wrote in the piece. "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."
Only a handful of details from the survey were made public in the op-ed. TPM on Monday requested the full results from Benenson, but a staffer at the firm declined to release them, citing a confidentiality agreement with the DNC.
There have been plenty of incongruities to emerge in the ongoing national debate over gun violence. The legislative prospects of universal background checks have long been shrouded in uncertainty, even as polls have consistently shown nearly across-the-board support for the proposal.
Benenson's poll also showed huge support for both universal background checks and an assault weapons ban, even as half said they'd prefer stricter enforcement over new gun laws. A Quinnipiac University poll in February showed the public divided between Obama and congressional Republicans on the question of who would do a better job handling gun policy. But the same poll showed large majorities supporting gun provisions, such as bans on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons, that have been advocated by the White House and opposed by much of the GOP.