Think Tennesseans are hopelessly divided on gun rights? Think again.



New MTSU poll of Tennessee voters reveals broad support for common sense gun law reforms

A new cross-state poll by researchers at MTSU revealed that although 69% of Tennesseans think it is more important to “protect the right to own guns” than to “control gun ownership” (23%), there is overwhelming and broad support for gun law reforms such as requiring background checks on all gun sales. The majority of Tennesseans also support banning assault-style weapons and creating a federal database to track gun sales.

“We are pleased to see these poll results, but not surprised,” explained Beth Joslin Roth, Policy Director for The Safe Tennessee Project. “There is a sense that there is this great divide on the issue of guns and that the issue is too polarizing to ever be addressed in a meaningful way. But we know that’s not true and this poll proves it. The vast majority of Americans and Tennesseans support common sense measures like expanded background checks that have been proven to be effective in reducing gun violence.”

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Tennesseans are not alone. Just two weeks ago at their national conference, the U.S. Police Chiefs Association stated their support for mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, including those sales involving private sellers or gun shows, neither of which currently require background checks. At the conference, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy spoke about expanded background checks, saying, ”This is a no-brainer, this is the simplest thing in the world. It troubles me all the time.”

Currently seventeen states and Washington, DC require background checks for all handgun sales. And these interventions are effective. 
The Brady Campaign reports that in states with expanded background checks, there are 48% fewer law enforcement officers shot to death, 48% fewer suicides by firearms, and 46% fewer woman shot to death by their intimate partners.

Tennessee currently ranks 6th in the nation for women murdered by men, according to the recent Violence Policy Center report released this fall and 12th in the nation for suicide by firearm. 600 Tennesseans kill themselves with a gun every year.

The man who gunned down five U.S. service members in Chattanooga bought his rifles via, an online gun exchange that connects private sellers with private buyers. Background checks are not required.

In a NewsChannel5 report, Ben Hall interviewed incarcerated gang member Jonathan Gutierrez who said that he and his fellow Brown Pride gang members obtained many of their guns at gun shows without undergoing any kind of background checks.

The MTSU poll also revealed that 85% of Tennesseans support laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns. However, The Safe Tennessee Project joins the majority of mental health practitioners who believe that it’s wrong to consider mental illness a predictor of violence, suggesting instead that, based on the evidence, there are more effective means of assessing someone’s potential for violent behavior.

“We are trying to help people understand that people with diagnosed mental illnesses are very rarely violent towards others- the vast majority of people who suffer from conditions such as anxiety, depression, autism, and even schizophrenia are not a danger, and are in fact are more likely to be the victims of violence,” said Dr. Jonathan Metzl, psychiatrist and research director for The Safe Tennessee Project and co-author of the recent American Journal of Public Health article, “Mental illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms.”

“In this sense, it is wrong to stigmatize mental illnesses by implying that these conditions make people more likely to commit gun crimes—despite the popular stereotypes, this is simply not the case,” Metzl explained. “However, a great deal of published research shows that better predictors of violence are things like alcohol or substance abuse or past histories of violence, and that these factors may be exacerbated by short-term stressors such as interpersonal altercations, relationship issues, or other major life changes. In this sense – we really need to pay attention to everyday predictive factors for gun violence, factors that impact all of us. Statistically speaking, a man with generalized anxiety disorder, depression, or schizophrenia is not a threat. But a man who has committed violent acts in the past, or who engages in domestic abuse or gets in fights, and who drinks excessively and owns guns might well be. How do we keep guns away from him?”

Although keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous or potentially dangerous people may sound like an impossible task, it’s not. The Safe Tennessee Project is currently working with attorneys and gun violence prevention organizations across the country in evaluating possible legal interventions that would allow close family members and law enforcement to immediately intercede when they feel a person is a likely threat to themselves or others. Some states have already passed such legislation and a number of others are currently drafting or considering similar bills.

The family of the Chattanooga shooter had expressed concerns about his emotional instability and drug use. They also were also aware that their son owned guns and wanted him to give them up which he refused to do.

“The vast majority of gun owners out there are responsible and understand the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people,” said Roth. “There are some groups out there who want Americans to believe that you either support gun ownership or you support banning guns and that just isn’t the case. Common sense measures like background checks and mechanisms that allow families to intervene and prevent a possible tragedy just make sense. And, most importantly, they work. We will be urging our legislators to listen to voters and pass legislation that will make Tennesseans safer. Like the Police Superintendent said, ‘It’s a no brainer.'”