Most West Virginians want better background checks

May 2, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

Today’s Gazette story about Sen. Joe Manchin refusing to give up his efforts for fairly modest improvements in our nation’s background check system for firearms purchases reminded me to check back again with the West Virginia Democrat’s office about something the senator said in the floor speech the day the Senate rejected his legislation.

In that speech, Sen. Manchin said the following:

That is what we have been talking about: that 90 percent of Americans–83 percent of West Virginians–support a criminal background check or a mental background check. They do not support infringing on an individual’s right. If you are out in parts of my State–my beautiful State of West Virginia–where you know everybody, you know who is responsible or not, you know a family member you want to give a gun to. We know that. We did not infringe on that.

Personally, I had not seen any West Virginia-specific polling — though to hear what some folks up at the statehouse say, West Virginians are opposed to any kind of gun safety laws at all.

Well, it turns out that Sen. Manchin got his figures a little wrong. But the result is really the same. Sen. Manchin was citing a survey by Orion Strategies which, according to this press release, found:

63 percent of West Virginia households currently have a firearm (compared to the national average of 41 percent).

75 percent of all respondents believe that “that universal background criminal and mental checks should be mandatory in order to purchase firearms from any location.” 17 percent oppose and the remainder is undecided.

Now, this was not a huge sample size, and the poll has a relatively high percentage of error, and the press release does not include any other details about the questions asked. But the result is supported by other surveys that show most gun owners and NRA members support better background checks.

Still, this West Virginia data got relatively little attention from the media (there were some stories here and here) when the survey was announced about a month before the Senate vote. And the poll results certainly weren’t made a central part of the discussion about what political risks Sen. Manchin may or may not be taking by showing leadership on gun safety.

You can watch Sen. Manchin’s floor speech here (fast forward to about the 12-minute mark for the polling numbers):

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