Are gun owners liars? Well, yes and no…

The DuPont corporation has conducted numerous studies of consumer buying habits over the decades. Typically, this type of research aims at tracking products purchased and attempts to correlate that to advertising and marketing efforts, in-store signage and layout, customer demographics and a host of other factors. The idea was to help retailers make better decisions on how to better address customer needs and ultimately move more product.

In one particularly interesting study DuPont employees, dressed in a distinctive but non-descript clothing and armed with a clipboard, were placed out front of a variety of retail and grocery stores and approached customers with a quick survey as they entered the store. Receptive consumers were asked a brief series of questions about their favorite brands and the sorts of goods they came to the store to purchase that day. Unbeknownst to these survey respondents, the DuPont crew marked each survey with the consumer’s description. Once these folks completed their shopping and exited the store a different survey was attempted to ascertain what the consumer actually bought.

In all, statistically-valid sample data from 5,000 people was collected and it found that seven times out of ten consumers will answer a survey with statements and claims different from what they actually do! No, this does not mean that random people deliberately lie or are trying to be deceptive seventy percent of the time. Sometimes it means that an otherwise polite and honest respondent, busy and harried with other life issues, flippantly answers questions in quick attempt to help the person conducting the survey. Other times the survey reveals what the respondent believes is the right answer or correct response, even though it might not actually represent his/her true habits. In other words, the respondent is answering with what he feels he should be doing as opposed to what he really does.

While volunteering as a hunter education instructor in Wisconsin, I read a National Shooting Sports Foundation-generated survey claiming that nearly three out of four hunters engaged in target shooting between hunting seasons. With over 700,000 licensed deer hunters alone, this indicated some half million folks attending shoots at least once every year. During this same period I was on the Wisconsin Rifle and Pistol Association board as the director of field marksmanship events. Despite forming as a state-level branch of the National Rifle Association, WRPA embraced all forms of target shooting, including those not recognized by the NRA. Yet, membership hovered around 3,500 total and not all of them attended shoots. Meetings primarily revolved around boosting participation. In fact, “Field Marksmanship Director” was a position invented by the WRPA for me because I was running HunterShooter events and they hoped I would attract more hunters. I did, to a small degree, but we were about 495,000 people short of that NSSF survey and still have no idea where or what those folks did to constitute “target shooting.”

I will present survey data as collected by organizations such as NSSF and NRA here on occasion. As an indicator of political mood or an overall general public feeling, such surveys can be useful. However, if the goal is to track something more tangible, such as actual participation, then surveys like this are likely useless unless the results can be backed with the means to measure real participation as opposed to respondent claims.