A strong majority of Minnesota voters support universal background checks on all gun sales and a ban on semiautomatic military-style rifles like the AR-15, a new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll has found.
More than 8 out of 10 Minnesota voters favor expanding criminal background checks to cover all gun sales, including those sold privately or at gun shows. And while legislation that would do so has stalled along party lines at both the State Capitol and in Washington, the Minnesota Poll found widespread support for the proposal across ideological, geographic and demographic lines.
One of the only deeply partisan divides over guns that the poll found was over banning “military-styled rifles” such as the AR-15. Support for a ban on such firearms was strongest among Democrats at 82%, compared to 35% among Republicans.
The nation’s long-running gun debate has further intensified since a pair of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, left more than 30 dead just hours apart in August. The bloodshed renewed calls for stronger gun restrictions nationwide.
That includes in Minnesota, where Democratic legislators are pushing measures for universal background checks and to create a new “red flag” law to allow authorities to petition a judge to remove guns from those deemed a threat to harm themselves or others.
Lauren McInerney, a 33-year-old St. Paul resident who participated in the poll, supports stricter firearms laws, including mandating background checks for private sales that “can at least weed out people we know might not be” responsible gun owners.
“I just think we’re far too civilized as a nation and too advanced to have this going on,” said McInerney, a Democrat who listed gun control among the top policy issues for 2020. “We’re one of the only countries that keeps having so many mass shootings to such a degree. To me, it just seems a little ridiculous that we’re not doing anything about it.”
Jay Morrell, a 77-year-old Republican voter who owns a ready-mix concrete business and lives in Monticello, said he believes Minnesota’s existing gun laws are sufficient. A lifelong hunter, Morrell worries about the potential for government overreach with any new proposals.
“I also take the position that guns don’t kill people, it’s the people that are killing people,” Morrell said.
Support for universal background checks was highest among voters in Hennepin and Ramsey counties (88%), but it did not dip below 81% across the metro suburbs and rural Minnesota.
Nearly every voter identifying as a Democrat said they supported universal background checks, with 97% in favor, while 75% of Republican voters and 77% of Independent/other respondents said they supported universal background checks. No single age group recorded less than 82% support on the question, while 87% of women and 81% of men said they supported universal criminal background checks.
A ban on military-styled rifles recorded 58% support among Minnesota voters polled, while 36% were opposed and 6% were undecided. Support was highest in Hennepin and Ramsey counties (65%) and southern Minnesota (59%). More than half of voters polled in the metro suburbs and northern Minnesota also supported a ban.
While banning any type of firearms has not been a priority for Minnesota lawmakers and gun control advocates in the state, multiple Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for assault weapons bans while on the campaign trail — including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
More women supported a ban on such rifles than men, with 63% compared to 52%. Support was strongest among the 18-34 age group, with 68% in favor. Voters 65 and older were next, with 59% supporting a ban.
“As citizens, we have no reason to have anything that powerful,” said Lanaya Laroche, 41, of South St. Paul. “Why do we need something that powerful in our everyday life?”
The popularity of semiautomatic, military-style rifles has soared among gun enthusiasts since a previous federal assault weapons ban was lifted in 2004.
Researchers and trade groups estimate that there are as many as 20 million assault-style rifles in the country, with more than a million made each year.
Dan Doyle, a 57-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran who lives in Farmington, opposes a ban on rifles like the AR-15 and said terms like “military-style” are misnomers when applied to describe the popular semi-automatic rifles.
“I used military-style weapons and it is by no means a military weapon,” said Doyle, an Independent factory worker, of the AR-15. “I’ll put it this way, if you ask any of our armed forces to walk into battle with an AR-15, they will tell you to go to hell. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.”
The telephone poll interviewed 800 registered Minnesota voters from Oct. 14 to Oct. 16 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The poll also found that most Minnesota voters would support creating a national database “accessible to local law enforcement that would track all gun sales in the United States.” Nearly 7 in 10 Minnesota voters backed the idea, including 9 out of 10 Democrats, 65% of Independents and 49% of Republicans.
The Minnesota Poll’s results tracked with recent national polling that found widespread bipartisan support for universal background checks, including an August Fox News poll that showed nearly 90% support from voters in both parties.
The results also kept pace with an April 2018 Star Tribune Minnesota Poll that found 9 out of 10 the state’s voters supported a mandatory criminal background check on all gun sales. The poll of 625 registered voters had a 4% plus or minus margin of sampling error.
Despite the widespread support, voters like Laroche remain pessimistic on the chances for new gun laws coming out of the state Legislature or Congress. Others, like Morrell, who oppose new restrictions like universal background checks and assault weapons bans, say they would be open to other gun controls like limiting magazine capacity.
Morrell, who said he owns about 30 firearms, said he was content with his shotgun that holds three shells and his five-round deer rifle.
“Shoot, in Minnesota you’ll never get five shots at a deer anyway,” he quipped.