A majority of Minnesotans support stricter gun laws in the United States, including wide backing for a ban on military-style rifles and for raising the age for gun purchases from 18 to 21, a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found.
An overwhelming 9 out of 10 Minnesota voters also favor mandatory criminal background checks on all gun sales, the poll shows, including those sold privately and at gun shows. And Minnesotans in every part of the state oppose the arming of schoolteachers, which some political leaders, including President Donald Trump, have suggested.
Beyond the consensus on those issues, however, the poll identified deep political and demographic divisions.
Support for tightening gun laws was strongest among women — 65 percent, compared to 46 percent among men — and among residents of Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Seventy-four percent of them endorsed stricter laws, as did 51 percent of those who live in the other metro suburbs. Across the rest of the state, fewer than half agreed.
America’s long-running debate over guns has had renewed urgency since 17 people died in a Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school, setting off protests and nationwide demands for change.
Thousands of students across the country walked out of school again on Friday to protest gun violence, urging Congress and state legislatures to act. The walkouts also marked the passage of 19 years since the deaths of 13 people in a shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School.
The issue is particularly salient in Minnesota, which has a deeply rooted gun culture and many hunting and sport shooting enthusiasts. The poll found that there are firearms in half the state’s households; the ratio nationwide is about 40 percent. In 45 percent of Minnesota households, someone has fired a weapon in the last year.
Michelle Marcil, a 47-year-old Blaine resident who participated in the poll, said her household fits in that last category. But she’s ready for tighter laws.
“We have a legal right to own a gun, but we have to buy it legally,” she said. “There are enough guns on the street to arm every American illegally. I hope it changes — for the sake of the children.”
Jerry Olson, 70, a retired mechanic and former military police officer who lives in the Lake Mille Lacs-area town of Isle, said those who insist on gun law changes are overreacting to the Florida shooting. “The Constitution is something that’s being ignored just now,” he said.
Gun control is emerging as a factor in November’s elections, and the poll tracked a partisan divide across the state. Almost nine in 10 Democrats backed new gun limits, while 57 percent of Republicans opposed them. Six in 10 Minnesotans oppose training and arming teachers, but three-quarters of Republicans liked the idea. Only 2 percent of Democrats support it.
The political split also was stark in responses to a question about whether communities would be safer if more people carried guns: Just 7 percent of Democrats agreed, while 72 percent of Republicans did.
The telephone poll of 625 registered Minnesota voters was conducted April 15-18 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Most Minnesotans do not fear that they or a loved one could be a victim of a mass shooting, the poll found. Almost three-quarters said they’re unafraid or not too fearful. Twenty-six percent are very or somewhat worried.
More than four in 10 Minnesotans said they have unfavorable opinions of the National Rifle Association, which opposes new limits on access to guns. That’s up from 29 percent in a 2013 Minnesota Poll.
A gender gap also was evident. Three-quarters of women said they want to raise the age for gun buyers and ban military rifles with detachable magazines. About half of men agreed.
The state results mirrored some recent national polls. Just after the Florida shooting, a Quinnipiac University Poll found that 66 percent of Americans wanted more gun limits — the highest level the poll had ever measured and a reversal from 2015, when 47 percent supported new restrictions.
But an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted this month found fading voter interest. Although half of registered voters said a candidate’s stance on gun policies will be a major consideration this fall, that number was down 13 percentage points from February.
The horror of the Florida school shooting and the activism of its survivors may be fueling societal shifts, but the Minnesota Poll found mixed reviews of those students. Just over half said they had a favorable view of them; 16 percent had unfavorable opinions. About a third had no opinion.
Florida students provided the impetus for changes to gun laws in that state. In March, Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill requiring a three-day waiting period for purchases and raising the age of buyers from 18 to 21.
But momentum in Congress and legislatures in other states, including Minnesota, has lagged. The poll found that 45 percent of Minnesotans don’t think Congress has done enough and 23 percent said it has gone too far.
The $1.3 trillion spending bill Trump signed March 23 included provisions meant to improve information-sharing for background checks and authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence. It created a program to train schools to recognize signs of potential shooters.
Stalled on Capitol Hill, however, are bills that would expand background checks and allow relatives and law enforcement to temporarily restrict people’s access to guns when “red flags” indicate that they are a danger.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat with a largely rural constituency who has long supported gun rights, said that he approves of some changes, but only if they really make a difference. He thinks the Legislature should enact the red flag proposal if it ensures due process. Congress should improve the background check system, he said, and schools must be made more secure.
Most of his constituents, Peterson said, “are willing to do things if it’s going to make kids safer, schools safer.”
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen said in a statement that the Republican supported the provisions in the federal spending bill. He also backs red flag orders and co-authored a proposed ban of “bump stocks,” which enable semiautomatic weapons to fire rapidly.
The state’s other Republican congressmen did not respond to several requests for comment.
Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Jason Lewis’ campaign issued a news release that decried “gun control’s dark money” after a group called Listen to the Children placed newspaper ads chiding Washington policymakers for inaction on guns.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is running for governor, credited Republicans in Congress for making some changes and said the pressure on lawmakers won’t abate. “This feels different,” he said. “This is not going away.”
Tim Pawlenty, a former Republican governor who is running again, said recently that he supports a bump-stock ban and would allow unlicensed gun dealers access to the background check system.
Interviews with some poll participants showed that the issue is on Minnesotans’ minds. Linda Mankus, 71, who lives outside the Itasca County town of Talmoon, can’t fathom why anyone objects to tougher rules. “There’s no rhyme or reason for all this madness,” she said.
She and her husband, Ronald Kegley, “are pro-gun, but we have things with fur on them that you don’t want to meet in the night,” Mankus said. She worries her grandchildren could be targets of shootings at school or work. “Too many people try to take revenge on each other. They need to learn to talk,” she said.
Janice Hickey, 75, a 3M retiree who lives in Maplewood, has taken a gun safety class in preparation for getting a concealed carry permit. She’s worried about a slew of new laws that affect law-abiding gun owners, not criminals. “Our guns better not be taken away,” she said.
Hickey approves of arming teachers, doesn’t think raising the age limit to buy guns would help much and believes schools should have metal detectors.
Hickey isn’t hopeful that Florida students can make a difference: “I don’t know that we can change what’s going on.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who is not seeking another term, said, “It’s interesting how turning points take place. It usually starts out with a handful of people.”
Still, that view is tempered by many years in Washington.
Opinions and laws on guns will change, Nolan said. “I have no doubt it will come, [but] I don’t think it’s going to come yet.”
Staff writer J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.