Have Americans turned against the Second Amendment? “The center has shifted on this issue,” one source in Roll Call’s report tells Nathan Gonzales, but has the center really shifted on gun control? It depends on the view, apparently. Gonzales reports that a new poll shows that Democrats have the upper hand in the gun-control debate, but this might be a trap:

Gun control has been a third rail of Democratic campaigns, but a new poll suggests that Democratic candidates should embrace a bolder approach to restrictions on guns, even in general elections. …

It modeled three different base Democratic messages against a standard conservative message. The first base message talked about the economy, education and health care. The second base message included those same issues along with a “moderate” gun message, including protecting the Second Amendment and universal background checks, and “keeping guns out of dangerous hands.” The third base message included the same initial issues along with a more progressive gun message that combined a commitment to an assault weapons ban with a call for fewer guns and making them harder to get.

The first option prevailed over a conservative candidate message by 13 points, 50 percent to 37 percent. The second message won by a wider 17-point margin. The third message, which included the more progressive position on guns, triumphed by the widest margin, 22 points. None of the ballot tests included party affiliation for the candidates.

“I’m normally reluctant to write about issue polls,” Gonzales notes, “but this one is different.” Perhaps Gonzales should have stuck with his native skepticism. It’s tough to analyze the poll directly as there are no links to it in the Roll Call article, but we can ask who conducted the poll and on whose behalf. And suddenly, the claim about center-shifting starts to become a little less credible:

Guns Down and Center for American Progress commissioned a national poll of 1,000 registered voters via an online web panel, conducted June 12-16 by Democratic pollster Margie Omero of GBA Strategies, to test the effectiveness of various messages on the gun issue.

Ahem. A gun-control group combined with the leading progressive-activist political organizing group and hired a Democratic pollster, and … we’re surprised to find gun-control messaging suddenly becoming a winner? What were the odds, eh? How can a reporter for a news publication not be skeptical about these results?

Besides, the problem with these messaging polls is that so few Democrats remained informed and disciplined enough to explain them properly, let alone stick with them. The third message gets especially garbled because there really isn’t a definition of “assault weapons” that works, other than “semi-automatic rifles that look really scary.” The AR-15, for instance, is usually the weapon that gets the most mention, but it’s functionally no different than other semi-automatic rifles, and less powerful than some.

It’s one thing to air a slogan; it’s another thing to defend it when directly challenged. When that happens, gun-control candidates invariably start talking “automatic” weapons (already banned for almost all Americans), large capacity “magazine clips” (two different things), eventually leading to the always-hilarious argument that the Second Amendment really intended to only protect front-loading muskets. At the same time, it’s become painfully obvious that heavy gun control regulation fails in cities and states that impose them, such as Chicago, Washington DC, and so on.

It might still make for a successful message in places where Democrats already win. If they want to take those messages into the places where they’ve been on the ropes, I suspect that Republicans would be delighted to paint them honestly as the party that wants to take firearms away from law-abiding citizens.