In Senate testimony Wednesday, the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre drew a hard line against expanding background checks for gun purchases, a position new polls show may go against the views of most members of his own organization.
Numerous polls show the vast majority of Americans support requiring background checks for all gun sales, including gun shows. But two polls released this month shed rare light on the views of NRA members on the issue.
Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of NRA members supported requiring a background check system for all gun sales, according to a poll released Monday by Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. The survey found 89 percent of all Americans support the proposal. (The Johns Hopkins program has received financial support, and is named after, New York City mayor and gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg.)
While the poll's sub-sample of NRA members included only 169 completed interviews and a seven-point margin of sampling error, it corroborates a New York Times/CBS News poll this month that found an 85 percent majority of people in households with an NRA member supporting universal background checks.
There are few available surveys tracking attitudes of NRA members, and at around 2 percent of the adult population few surveys even ask about membership and would rarely complete enough interviews to report accurately.
Given its access to contact information, the NRA itself is best positioned to poll its own members. The group released a poll last Thursday showing stark opposition to an assault weapons ban and bans on high-capacity clips. But the poll asked no questions about making background checks universal, an area where Vice President Biden had sensed an emerging consensus.
The Hopkins study did find that NRA members share their leadership's concern over a more burdensome background check process. While not a part of President Obama's proposals, fewer than half of NRA members supported allowing up to five business days to complete a background check. By contrast, strong majorities of gun owners overall (67 percent) as well as non-gun owners (80 percent) supported the idea.
At the hearing, LaPierre argued that "background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them." Calling the current system a failure, he lamented that an expanded system will result in an enormous federal bureaucracy that "all of the little people in the country will have to go through it, pay the fees, pay the taxes."
The Johns Hopkins poll was conducted online Jan. 2-14 among 2,703 adults through GfK Knowledge Networks, an Internet panel that recruits respondents randomly via mail and telephone. The margin of sampling error for the full sample was 1.9 percentage points. The error margin is seven points for the sample of 169 NRA members. The NYT/CBS survey was conducted by telephone from Jan. 11-14 among a random national sample of 1,110 adults, and carried a three-point error margin. Eleven percent of respondents said they or another household member belongs to the NRA.
Clement is a pollster with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight Director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.