New poll: Vast majority of Tennesseans support bipartisan gun reform

Gun Rights

There is strong, bipartisan support in Tennessee for some form of a “red flag” law to temporarily restrict someone’s access to guns if they’re a threat to themselves or others, according to a new Vanderbilt University poll that shows a significantly increased interest in gun issues in the weeks following the Covenant School shooting.

Vanderbilt asked respondents about gun restrictions tied to “preventing school shootings” and about restrictions tied to “preventing gun-related violence.”

The respondents overwhelmingly indicated support for both, with 72% supporting a “red flag” law to prevent more general violence. Support rose to 75% for restrictions that would prevent “school shootings.”

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In addition, 16% said gun issues should be a top priority for state government, ranking behind education and the economy, and outpacing health care, infrastructure and inflation, among others. It indicates a marked increase from 5% of respondents last fall who prioritized gun issues, which ranked among the lowest priorities for voters for the last decade.

The statewide poll is co-directed by Vanderbilt University dean and political science professor John Geer and professor Josh Clinton. The poll, conducted at regular intervals, surveyed 1,003 registered Tennessee voters from April 19-23. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Support for restrictions phrased as ‘red flag’ proposals

Notably, respondents indicated support for new restrictions phrased as a “red flag” law, a colloquial term often used to describe extreme risk protection orders that can temporarily block access to firearms during emergencies. Some Tennessee Republicans have balked at supporting any new measure resembling a red flag law, while Gov. Bill Lee has been careful to avoid the term while calling for some increased restrictions.

Lee is expected to call a special session on the issue, though Republican lawmakers have not been eager to back his proposed extreme risk proposal.

More: Analysis: Could gun reform really come to Tennessee in legislature’s special session?

“Guns are a chief concern among Democrats, but there is wide agreement between the most liberal and most conservative voters in the state on support for the red flag laws that the governor has talked about,” Clinton said in a statement. “There is strong support for action even from MAGA Republicans and strong supporters of the NRA.”

Vanderbilt last year began probing the divide between conservative voters who responded they were “more of a supporter of the Make America Great Again, or MAGA, movement” and Republicans who support the Republican Party in general.

Legislature’s approval tumbles

Meanwhile, approval for the Tennessee General Assembly plummeted this spring amid a legislative session marred by scandal and political retaliation.

More: Lawmakers conclude legislative session as retaliation, partisan feuds define time at Capitol

Vanderbilt reports an all-time low approval rating for lawmakers in the 11 years Vanderbilt has conducted the poll.

In the fall of 2022, 55% of voters approved of the General Assembly’s work, with 34% disapproving. By April, the legislature saw a 26-point swing — 43% now approve, with 48% disapproving.

Nearly half of registered voters disagreed with the expulsion of Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, from the state House, on a very politically divided issue. Some 93% of Democrats and 54% of independents disagreed with the expulsions, while only 13% of MAGA-Republicans and 22% of non-MAGA Republicans disagreed.

Reach Melissa Brown at mabrown@tennessean.com.

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