Research Reports

A Disconnect in Gun Violence Beliefs

Solid backing for background checks, protection orders in Foundation funded survey

By Tim Daly, senior program officer in the Joyce Foundation’s Gun Violence Prevention and Justice Reform program

A contradiction appears to stand in the way of Minnesota enacting effective gun safety measures: voters overwhelmingly support stronger gun laws, but aren’t convinced they work.

This surprising disconnect, seen in a new public opinion survey funded by grants from the Joyce Foundation and George Family Foundation, presents a clear obstacle to enacting widely desired policies to combat gun violence, such as universal background checks and extreme-risk protection orders, two leading proposals under consideration in St. Paul.

The fact is, these and other types of gun safety laws do work. But a lack of knowledge about them, fueled by misinformation from the gun lobby and its allies, undermines the intensity and energy behind support for the measures -- particularly among voters not following the issue closely.

Finding ways to fix that would play a significant role in allowing the state’s gun policy to catch up to public opinion at a time the state faces a stubborn epidemic of gun violence, including suicides, homicides and non-fatal shootings.

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research this fall, shows that a significant majority of likely Minnesota voters think policymakers should adopt stronger gun laws -- including a plurality of gun owners. The findings confirm previous polling showing solid support in Minnesota for stronger gun laws.

Nevertheless, those same likely Minnesota voters aren’t persuaded the measures would have a major impact in reducing gun violence. To put a finer point on it, here are the numbers:

  • 92 percent of likely Minnesota voters support universal background checks, and 86 percent support a new extreme risk protection order, sometimes referred to as a “Red Flag” law.
  • Only 39 percent believe policies like these will make a major impact reducing gun violence in the state. (36 percent believe they will have minor impact, and 25 percent not much of an impact, or no impact at all).
  • 63 percent of Democrats believe these types of policies will have a major impact, but fewer than 25 percent of independents and Republicans agree.
  • Only half of non-gun owners believe these proposed policies will have a major impact.

The problem is urgent. New data confirms that Minneapolis suffered an 85 percent increase in homicides in the first nine months of 2020. This adds to a grim overall reality: nearly 4,000 Minnesotans lost their lives to gun violence between 2008 and 2018, including more than 3,100 by suicide.

Gun safety laws have worked in reducing such violence in states that have adopted them, and that is supported by considerable research.

Peer-reviewed studies funded by the Joyce Foundation over the last 25 years build the case for the “big two” policy issues before Minnesota lawmakers -- expanding background checks to all gun sales through the state’s permit-to-purchase system, which would prevent those at risk of harming themselves or others from accessing guns in the first place, and the creation of an extreme-risk protection order that would establish a legal process to temporarily remove a firearm from a gun owner who becomes a risk to themself or others.

Since federal background checks began in the mid-1990s, more than three million gun purchases have been prevented to those at risk of violence. When Connecticut strengthened its background-check law – similar to what’s being considered in Minnesota – that state saw a 40 percent reduction in homicides and a 15.4 percent reduction in suicides.

Another study showed that states with this type of policy, including Maryland, experienced an 11 percent decrease in homicide rates in their major city centers.

In contrast, after Missouri repealed its permitting law and background-check requirement in 2007, that state saw a 16.1 percent increase in firearm suicide and a 25 percent increase in firearm homicide.

The proposed extreme-risk protection order also has proven effective at reducing suicides. One study of Connecticut’s law estimated that for every 10 to 11 orders issued, the policy prevented one firearm suicide.

In a 2019 study of California’s version of the extreme-risk protection law, researchers described more than 20 cases in which the orders had been applied, including threatened mass shootings. The authors concluded the policy can play a key role in preventing future tragedies.

It’s true that strengthening gun laws in these ways isn’t the only solution to addressing gun violence in Minnesota. New research demonstrates the effectiveness and need for community-based solutions, such as those being led by the Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention. The GQR poll found strong support (82 percent) for funding these programs with public sector resources.

But why such a disconnect on guns, if research shows such consistent and solid evidence? Unfortunately, it’s not by accident.

For years, the gun lobby and its allies have waged a counter-factual campaign arguing that more policy won't solve the gun violence crisis in Minnesota. Instead, they call for less regulation, relaxed oversight, and most importantly, more guns for self-defense in our homes and on our streets.

Record numbers of Americans purchased guns in 2020, many for the first time, and already, we see the consequences: more guns purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic are leading to more gun deaths. Instead of being used for self-defense, which is rare and not particularly effective, the flood of guns is exacerbating the actual risk of firearm suicide, lethal domestic violence, and unintentional deaths, namely of children, among other tragic outcomes.

Strengthening gun policy is an important step toward saving lives in Minnesota. But until a bridge of facts is built over the misinformation currently dominating the debate, we will be no closer to the progress our communities so desperately need in stemming this violence.

For more information, click below:

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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