Sun readers call new gun control law ‘unconstitutional’ Really? Hardly

By Len Lazarick

Gun rally signsAn overwhelming majority of people responding to a Baltimore Sun poll this week — a whopping 94% —  called “Maryland’s ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines” “unconstitutional.” What’s more, 18,109 people responded to the “poll” published Tuesday, meaning about 17,000 responders objected to the new bans.

Right below these amazing results was the daily warning “results not scientific.”

No kidding. This was not a real public opinion survey seeking a random sample of the population that would show what a representative group of Maryland citizens think of the new law. It was one of those pop quizzes made possible by the wonderfully interactive nature of the Internet.

More typical results on cell phone violation

The next day, under the daily headline “What Maryland thinks”  on the op-ed page, was a more typical result to a less inflammatory question. “Do you support Maryland’s new law that will authorize police officers to pull over motorists who are talking on hand-held cell phones?”

Certainly this is a potentially controversial new law, but it got only 383 “votes.” Three out of four of them — 76% — supported the new law. (“Results not scientific.”)

Blame game for federal shutdown

Then Thursday, Sun readers were asked “Who is most to blame for the federal government shut down”? This time there were 2,267 votes on line: 69% blamed “the Republican-controlled House of Representatives;” 8% blamed “the Democrat-controlled Senate;” and 24% blamed “President Barack Obama.”

That sounds more in line with what Sun readers might think, but who knows? These are just opinion entertainments, with little more predictive legitimacy than the horoscopes that run a few pages before. Most days these Sun “polls” run next to the Doonesbury cartoon.

In the case of the gun control question, most likely the well-organized network of Second Amendment advocates — gun nuts, as their gun-grabbing opponents might characterize them — clearly flooded the pro-gun control newspaper with “votes.” (It appears you can vote more than once if you use a different computer.)

Red maryland bannerBlogger polls entertaining too

The polls on Maryland blog sites about the race for governor have the same entertainment value, and lack of predictive quality. A while back, a columnist colleague objected when Maryland Reporter’s daily State Roundup linked to the Red Maryland “poll,”  which is also “not scientific.” It would be interesting to know who’s up and who’s down in the three-way Republican race, but that poll only shows who a self-selected group of Republicans were backing, many of them encouraged to respond to the poll by the candidates themselves. (Here are the September results.)

To their credit, Red Maryland tells you from what counties and congressional districts the votes came from. This breakdown shows that Anne Arundel County is way over-represented in the poll, compared to a typical Republican primary vote, and other subdivisions, such as Baltimore County, have a smaller percentage than they should. That would explain why Anne Arundel County Del. Ron George is doing so well, or it just shows more of his supporters read Red Maryland. And at least you know who runs Red Maryland, which can’t be said for Red White and Blue Maryland Political News, which runs a poll but appears to be run by some unnamed David Craig supporter.

 Real polls do random samples

So what about real polls, the polls Maryland Reporter and others do stories about?

Last week, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s campaign released a poll showing him ahead of Attorney General Doug Gansler 43%-21%. Of course, it was paid for by the campaign, but it had credibility because it was done by well-known pollster Frederick Yang, of Garin-Hart-Yang.

Yang’s memo about the poll included standard pollster language: “Between September 11 and 15, 2013, Garin-Hart-Yang interviewed a statewide sample of 608 likely Democratic primary voters. The survey, which has a margin of error of +4.0 percentage points, is fully representative of a 2014 statewide Democratic primary electorate by key geographic and demographic factors.”

That’s what real public opinion surveys are supposed to do.

 Marijuana plantSupport for legalizing marijuana

That’s what Public Policy Polling of North Carolina says it did for the poll released Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Marijuana Policy Project.

Their poll results said that a majority of Maryland voters — 53% of those polled — support regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol for sale to adults over 21. Even larger majorities (72%) support legalizing it for medical uses, and decriminalizing possession of small quantities (68%).

The groups who paid for this poll favor these policies and the end of marijuana prohibition. And the pollster is consider Democratic and left-leaning. But the 678 randomly selected Maryland voters with a margin of error of 3.8% has a lot more credibility than something slapped up on the Internet by bloggers or a legacy news site like the Sun, especially if 18,000 people respond.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Isak T. Jones

    the second amendment states, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This clearly shows that any weapon even fully auto, grenades or tanks should be legal to the average person. They legally can’t be taxed because burdensome taxes on guns and ammo “Infringe” my ability to own them, and this ability is not a privilege but a “right”. The second amendment was put here to protect us not from robbers as much as an out of control government, therefor any weapon the military has we as Americans have a right to as well.

  2. ksteve

    I totally agree with you, Len, and hope that there will sometime soon be a Supreme Court majority that reads the Second Amendment in a way that permits greater regulation of the profit-seeking armaments industry so as to protect the right to life and safety of individuals and people in general. Either we go the way of a gun in every hand or as few of them in as few hands as possible. The latter makes more sense to me.

    • Sifaka

      The term “right to life” does not mean that a “right to self defense” can be diminished. As a right to self defense IS a right to life. In 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence declared that all men are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that “among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
      to further the “rights to life” in enumerated clause that restricted the power of the government, the Bill of Rights was created.
      In that law, the government does not have the authority to limit the enumerated rights. They make up the whole of what the founders consider a “right to life”

      Making sense to you is fine, you have a right to your opinion. Your opinion, however, dose not allow you to dictate the rights of others.

  3. Stanley Hill

    Socialist/Marxist laws like gun control are used to disarm the public to gain full control. The problem is we have no mentally ill program that works to elevate the problem with these very few people getting a weapon even the NEW Obama care doesn’t even address this. The health care community says that they don’t want to turn in these people to the system. I live in a state that is suppose to report them to the system and they don’t. Its time to stand and get everyone to say not at the ballet box.

  4. wfcollins

    Here in California there is a bill (SB374) on the governor’s desk that will classify any center fire semi-auto rifle that is capable of using a magazine with a capacity of over 10 rounds as an assault weapon. This law was written due to the previous failures of laws trying to ban assault weapon but did not clearly identify features that make any particular rifle more dangerous than another. They finally recognized that a deer rifle is more powerful than an AR15 and uses the same basic semi-auto design. The only way that they could ban the AR15 is to ban half of all rifles.

    This ban will allow existing owners to keep their rifles, but they must be registered as an assault weapon. Upon the death of the owner, they cannot be sold or inherited. At that point it would be a felony to posess the rifle. Given the Supreme Court recent rulings on commonly owned weapons, and that there are likely 50-100 million rifles that fit the bill’s description, this law will likely be found un-Constitutional. This is the perfect example of states attempting to limit a Constitutional right and to legislate confiscation from the family of a gun owner. For those who claim that nobody is coming after your guns, you may have to take that back.

      • wfcollins

        Interesting. Although I disagree with the laws in MD & CA, I understand the sentiment of the people advocating for them. We all want for the world to be a better safer place. It is unlikely however that these laws will accomplish that goal. I had to leave two guns behind in the midwest because they were too dangerous to own here in CA. One was an AR15, the other a Ruger CX4 storm. I was allowed to bring a shotgun and a Ruger Mini-30 Ranch Rifle. Both of these are arguably more lethal than the ones left behind. The laws only give us a false sense of having dealt with the problems.

        I do not understand why we cannot focus on the real root of the problem. We have a small portion of the population who do not value human life. It is rare that this behavior emerges suddenly. Usually there is a history of crime. Let’s explore isolating violent offenders for life before they cause mayhem. We need to stop prosecuting drug offenders and make room in our prisons for the sociopaths who would kill without emotion or compassion.

  5. wireknob

    Regardless of whether the poll was scientific or not, these laws are clearly unconstitutional. Anyone who has a reasonable knowledge of constitutional law and the history of the second amendment would know that.

    • Dan Dan

      Agreed. According to the Heller decision, handguns could not be banned because they were “in common use for lawful purposes” or something to that effect. Weapons that are “particularly dangerous and unusual” could be regulated. Note that the exemptions were for weapons that were dangerous AND unusual. While someone may argue that a particular weapon is “particularly dangerous” it is hard to argue that common rifles like AR-15’s or common magazines like those that hold 15 rounds are “unusual”. The AR-15 is one of, if not the, most common rifles in America. The Second Amendment has also been held to protect possession of weapons “particularly useful for militia service.” (Miller)
      Using these precedents, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that bans on AR-15’s and bans on standard capacity magazines would be found unconstitutional by today’s Supreme Court.

  6. Dan Dan

    OK, so the poll is “unscientific”, just as the disclaimer says. But the results do still show something important. It illustrates the often referred to “enthusiasm gap”. People opposed to gun control are much more passionate about the issue, and that high level of passion coupled with the relatively large number of activists mean that politicians will listen to them. Think of it this way. On one side, you have gun control supporters who feel that passing laws might reduce their chances of being shot. These odds are already very low, and even gun control supporters know that the effects of these laws are fairly minimal and are largely symbolic. The gun controller is not really directly affected except that they “feel” that they have “made a slight difference” in the world. Now take an opponent of gun control. Gun control laws affect them directly and immediately. They may make a particular firearm that they own illegal. They may make certain accessories that they own or want to own illegal. They may prevent someone from purchasing certain equipment used in certain types of competition, or may raise the prices of certain items. These laws will directly restrict the person in an immediate and tangible way.
    So it is no surprise that gun rights supporters are much more enthusiastic than gun control advocates. And these “poll” results illustrate that enthusiasm.

    • lenlazarick

      I agree that the results showed the level of enthusiasm — the 17,000 — just as did the thousands who testified or demonstrated in Annapolis. But the votes on the tally boards indicated where the legislators believed were the views of a majority of their constituents.

      • Dan Dan

        In our representative system, the opinion of the majority matters less than the votes that those opinions generate. Someone may be willing to answer a telephone poll expressing an opinion, but unless they base their votes on that opinion, the effect they have on policy will be minimal. This is why it is also important for a pollster to ask, “Would you vote for a candidate who opposes your view on this subject if you agreed with that candidate on other issues?” This way the poll reflects not just opinion, but how likely that opinion is to sway a vote. Many gun control opponents will not vote for a candidate that disagrees with this one issue, whereas many gun control supporters rank the issue much lower on their scale. Enthusiasm is as important, or possibly more important, as sheer numbers. Legislators know this, and know that they might lose an election based on their support of gun control, even if polls suggest that a majority of their constituents support gun control.

Support Our Work!

We depend on your support. A generous gift in any amount helps us continue to bring you this service.