The right response to Gallup's new poll about opinions on gun rights is simple: It's irrelevant. Sure, polls are interesting and they can show the country's current mood (which is sure to change, and soon). But when it comes to basic constitutional rights, polls don't matter. In a broader sense, rights are rights, and they're derived from our Creator - not public opinion.
"Fifty-five percent of Americans say they want laws covering the sale of firearms to be stricter than they are now, a distinct rise of eight percentage points from 2014," Gallup reported on Monday. "In 2007, the year of the Virginia Tech massacre, the percentage of Americans who favored stricter laws on gun sales dropped to a bare majority (51 percent) for the first time in several years. Since then, support for stricter laws had stayed under 50 percent, except in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012."
These numbers may be interesting, but they are quite meaningless.
Polls are, in fact, inappropriate when it comes to a discussion of rights.
Take the First Amendment. Its speech clause exists particularly to protect unpopular speech.
"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable," Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote in 1989.
If there's no protection for unpopular speech, then there's no protection of speech at all.
There's even a name for the belief that if the majority agrees, then a position must be right. It's called argumentum ad populum, and it's a logical fallacy. It holds that the majority, by definition, can't be wrong.
History shows us that it can. Slavery has, at times, enjoyed popular support in the United States, and for a much longer time in the South. Segregation was popular (even in the North), and to this day, the oppression of women enjoys vast popular support throughout many Middle Eastern and African countries.
President Obama often refers to a version of the fallacy when he claims his opponents are "on the wrong side of history," as if history is a never-faltering upward march toward a better, brighter future. It's not.
But rights don't come from majority opinion.
This isn't a unique position. Sen. Ted Cruz voiced much the same opinion last spring.
"Our country was founded on a radical proposition, which is that our rights don't come from government; they come from God," he said. "The entire reason for the Second Amendment is not for hunting; it's not for target shooting. … The Second Amendment is there so that you and I can protect our homes and our families and our children and our lives. And it's also there as a fundamental check on government tyranny."
Even President John F. Kennedy understood this: "The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God," he said in his inaugural address.