Support high for new background checks, preventing sales to mentally ill
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Although strongly protective of gun rights in general, most Tennessee voters favor requiring background checks for gun sales among private individuals and at gun shows and support laws to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns, according to the latest MTSU Poll.
Two other measures – banning assault-style weapons and setting up a federal database to track all gun sales – draw considerably less support, especially among gun rights supporters.
“Tennesseans generally favor preserving access to guns, and pretty passionately so,” said Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “But there appears to be some common ground between gun rights supporters and gun control supporters when it comes to regulating private and gun show sales and sales to the mentally ill.”
The poll randomly surveyed 603 registered voters statewide by telephone Oct. 25-27 and has an error margin of 4 percentage points.
Key findings about attitudes toward firearms among the state’s voters include:
- Most think it is more important to “protect the right to own guns” (69 percent) than to “control gun ownership” (23 percent). The rest don’t know or declined to answer.
- These attitudes run “hot” emotionally, with 92 percent of gun rights supporters saying they feel “strongly” about their view, and 86 percent of gun control supporters saying they feel “strongly” about their view.
- Most Tennessee voters think gun ownership does more to “protect people from becoming victims of crime” (63 percent) than to “put people’s safety at risk” (24 percent).
- But support runs high for passing “laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns” (85 percent in favor) and for “making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks” (83 percent in favor).
- Solid majorities of both gun rights and gun control supporters favor regulating private and gun show sales and preventing sales to the mentally ill. Specifically, 78 percent of gun rights supporters, and 96 percent of gun control supporters, favor regulating gun sales among private individuals and at gun shows.
Similarly, 84 percent of gun rights supporters, and 90 percent of gun control supporters favor laws preventing gun sales to the mentally ill.
The two groups diverge, though, on other forms of gun regulation. For example, 81 percent of gun control supporters favor “a ban on assault-style weapons” compared to only 40 percent of gun rights supporters. Similarly, 84 percent of gun control supporters, but only 43 percent of gun rights supporters, favor “creating a federal government database to track all gun sales.”
Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll, said these patterns among Tennessee voters are similar to patterns found in recent national polling.
In a Pew Research Center poll that used the same questions this summer, requiring background checks for private and gun-show firearm sales drew 82 percent approval among gun rights supporters and 88 percent approval among gun control supporters.
Majorities of both gun rights supporters (82 percent) and gun control supporters (77 percent) also approved of laws preventing gun sales to the mentally ill.
“Our poll represents a pretty stringent test of how acceptable these two measures might be to gun rights advocates,” Reineke said. “According to the Pew Center poll, only 47 percent of Americans think protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership. Comparing that figure to the 69 percent in our poll of Tennessee voters suggests that if these two measures can find strong general support here, they can probably find it just about anywhere.”
In terms of demographics, gun rights supporters in the state tend to be Republican, white and male. The same characteristics describe those who think gun ownership does more to protect people from becoming victims of crime than to put people’s safety at risk.
Interviews for the poll were conducted by Issues & Answers Network Inc., which completed 603 telephone surveys among a random sample of registered Tennessee voters aged 18 and over.
Data was collected using Tennessee statewide voter registration sample with a mix of 60 percent landline and 40 percent cell phones. The average interview length was nine minutes.
Quotas by gender and geographic region were implemented to ensure the sampled respondents were representative of Tennessee’s adult population. U.S. Census Bureau data were used to determine the gender distribution each of Tennessee’s Grand Divisions: East, Middle, and West. Data was weighted on age to ensure that it was representative of Tennessee registered voters
The survey’s margin of error is +/- 4 for the entire sample percentage points, meaning that we are 95 percent confident that the actual result lies within 4 percentage points (in either direction) of the result our sample produced. Subgroups have wider margins of error.