Most Michigan Republican voters support restrictions on gun purchases, News poll finds

Gun Rights

Lansing — A majority of likely voters in Michigan’s Republican primary say they support background checks for individuals purchasing a gun, but oppose banning the sale of military-style assault weapons, a new statewide poll shows.

About 91% said they support background checks for an individual purchasing a gun and 67% support so-called “red flag” laws that would prohibit individuals from buying guns if they show signs of being a threat, according to a July 13-15 poll of 500 likely Michigan GOP primary voters.

But Republican voters stopped short of supporting limits on military-style automatic assault weapons such as an AR-15, opposing such a ban 57%-34%, according to the Glengariff Group poll commissioned by The Detroit News and WDIV (Channel 4). The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The vast majority in favor of background checks reflects one of the first glimmers of common ground on gun legislation, pollster Richard Czuba said. 

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“Talk about low-hanging policy fruit, when both sides of the aisle — their base voters — can all agree on background checks,” said Czuba, CEO of Glengariff Group. 

“Clearly, when you jump to banning assault weapons, they wholesale disagree with that,” Czuba said. “But they do agree with these rudimentary checks on who is buying a gun.”

Of the 91% of Republican primary voters who support background checks, 81% said they strongly support them. Among those polled who indicated they had a gun in their household, 93% supported requiring background checks for gun purchases.

Of the 67% who support red flag laws, 55% said they strongly support them. Individuals with guns in their homes supported red flag laws 69% to 25%. Proposed red flag laws in Michigan have routinely failed to gain any traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature over the past decade.

Czuba linked the lack of meaningful legislation requiring background checks — despite public sentiment — with the organizational influence of groups like the National Rifle Association.

“We go back to that institutional seal of approval,” Czuba said. “The NRA won’t give you that endorsement if you support background checks.”

Sen. Rosemary Bayer, a Keego Harbor Democrat who’s been pushing for gun legislation ranging from red flag laws to safe storage rules, acknowledged Republicans are facing potential blowback from gun groups if they support some of the limitations she’s proposed. 

But she argued the suicides, accidental shootings and homicides that could be prevented with them should outweigh those concerns. 

“Your own people want you to do this,” Bayer said, referring to the poll results. “The fact that you’re not doing it means your not doing your job.”

Great Lakes Gun Rights Executive Director Brenden Boudreau said he wasn’t surprised by the polling results because “on the surface, background checks sound like a win-win scenario.”

But he argued people committing crimes often pass background checks and, where they do exist, those checks result in an overwhelming number of false positives or matches with individuals who do have a criminal record. 

“It’s a nightmare of a situation to get your gun rights restored,” Boudreau said. 

Boudreau also said red flag laws are ineffective and violate the constitutional due process rights of the individual whose firearms are being taken away by authorities.

The debate over background checks, red flag laws and even safe storage rules has come front and center in the Michigan Legislature in recent months in the wake of the Nov. 30 Oxford High School shooting

Rep. Matt Hall, who hopes to lead Michigan House Republicans next year, said there’s a clear concern among lawmakers about gun violence and he argued there are some steps lawmakers have taken to address it — though they fall short of what their Democratic colleagues have pushed for.

The Comstock Township Republican noted recent federal legislation that seeks to strengthen background checks for those under the age of 21 and to make it easier, if states adopt the measure, to seize guns from individuals who intend to shoot themselves or others. He also noted state efforts in the wake of the Oxford school shooting to increase school safety and student mental health resources. 

“We’re working hard to find solutions that are bipartisan to address the gun violence issue,” Hall said.

“There are many things going on to address the issue both at the federal and state level, but I’m not going to entertain red flag gun laws,” he added, arguing red flag laws violate due process rights.

Bayer pushed back on Hall’s statements, saying the school security measures proposed by Republicans aren’t nearly enough.

“This is not normal,” she said. “And adding more ways to teach (students) what to do when there’s a shooter at school is not solving the problem of a shooter at school.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, reportedly has promised Senate Democrats a committee hearing on red flag legislation this session but that hearing has yet to occur. Shirkey has said he personally doesn’t support red flag laws.

Separate from legislative actions, a group of Michigan anti-gun violence advocates launched an exploratory committee in February to looking into a 2024 ballot initiative seeking to impose firearm restrictions in Michigan.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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