Texans strongly support expanding background checks for gun purchases and laws that let police remove guns from people deemed by a judge to be dangerous, according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll.
The poll, taken six months after the massacre of 22 people in El Paso, also found that a majority of Texans don’t believe elected officials are doing enough to prevent mass shootings.
“There’s overwhelming majority support and that is across-the-board bipartisan,” said Kenneth Bryant Jr., an assistant political science professor at the University of Texas at Tyler who conducted the poll. “The more restrictive the policy, the lower the support across the state because Republicans are becoming more oppositional.”
Texans were less likely to support a ban on assault weapons or a gun buyback program, the poll found. And, President Donald Trump was named by those polled as the person they most trust to lead on gun policy.
The poll was conducted Jan. 21-30 with 1,169 registered voters, 305 surveyed by phone and 864 through online surveys. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.87 percentage points.
Though the poll found support for expanded background checks and red flag laws, those policies have gained little traction in the Republican-led Legislature, which has opted in past years to make it easier for Texans to carry weapons in schools and houses of worship.
After mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa last August, Gov. Greg Abbott resisted Democrats’ calls for a special session on gun violence. The Republican instead convened roundtables to discuss policy ideas, such as cracking down on straw purchases and those who steal guns. State lawmakers meet next in 2021.
Support for background checks
Among the five gun policies asked about in the poll, support for expanding background checks was highest at 86%.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last summer broke with the National Rifle Association and called for expanding background checks to private gun sales between strangers.
Though Patrick faced pushback from fellow conservatives at the time, he isn’t backing away from the idea. His senior adviser Sherry Sylvester noted the NRA estimates 90% of gun buyers already undergo a background check and the policy is meant to keep firearms away from felons and other disqualified people.
“As an NRA member, Lt. Gov. Patrick is committed to protecting the right to transfer guns between family and friends with no check,” Sylvester said. “However, he would never personally sell a gun to a stranger and he doesn’t believe most responsible gun owners would either.”
Abbott’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about the policy. Republican Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches said he isn’t opposed to considering such an idea, but questions whether it would be effective. He said he doubts gang members selling guns to strangers would take care to file the paperwork certifying they ran a background check.
“There are people who live outside the law intentionally and unintentionally,” said Clardy, who sits on the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.
The gunman in the Midland-Odessa shooting avoided a background check by purchasing a rifle through a private sale, said Molly Bursey, state legislative leader for the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The man previously failed a check due to a history of mental illness.
“He just demonstrated the loophole in our law,” she said.
Guns are likely to play a key role in the 2020 presidential election, after a series of mass shootings at schools and houses of worship in nationwide within the past few years.
Trump came out on top with 44% when poll participants named which presidential candidate they trust most to lead on gun policy. Support, however, split largely along party lines with 82% of Republicans, 36% of independents and 3% of Democrats naming Trump.
Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden came in a distant second with 13% of respondents naming him the most trustworthy to lead on gun policy. And 11% said Democratic presidential candidates Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are most trustworthy to lead on the gun issue.
Generally the poll found women are more enthusiastic about gun reform policies than men, Bryant said. Support fell across the board the more restrictive the policy, he said.
Buybacks, red flag laws
Mandatory buybacks of assault-style weapons drew support from 44% of respondents, down only slightly from September when former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke pushed for such a step in a debate. The idea drew fierce pushback from elected Texas Republicans and in a November poll support dropped, driven largely by opposition from GOP voters, Bryant said.
“What we’re seeing is that at least for this program, when Republicans are cued by their leaders they stake more opposition,” Bryant said. “When it is not in the news and is not being discussed, we see more ambivalence among Republicans and don’t see a whole lot of changes among Democrats. They support these programs pretty overwhelmingly.”
So-called red flag laws garnered 68% support among respondents, while 18% had no opinion either way. Though Abbott suggested lawmakers consider red-flag laws after eight students and two teachers were killed in a mass shooting in Santa Fe in 2018, he later backed away from the idea.
Such a policy has been opposed by Jack Wilson, who returned fire on an attacker at his White Settlement church in December, and Stephen Willeford, who confronted the gunman in the 2017 mass shooting at a Sutherland Springs church that left 26 parishioners dead.
“If somebody wants a gun,” Wilson recently told The Dallas Morning News, “they can get it whenever they want, red flag laws or not.”
Of the respondents, 58% support a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips with over 10 bullets. And 55% supported a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, the poll found.
About the Dallas Morning News-UT Tyler Poll
The Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll is a statewide random sample of 1,169 registered voters taken Jan. 21-30. The mixed-mode sample includes 305 registered voters who took the survey by phone and 864 registered voters who were randomly selected from a panel of registered voters that have opted in to take online surveys through a company called Dynata. The online and phone surveys were conducted in English and Spanish.
The data was weighted to be representative of the Texas registered-voter population. Iterative weighting was used to balance sample demographics to the state population parameters. The sample is balanced to match parameters for gender, age, race/ethnicity and education using an iterated process known as raking. These parameters were derived from 2018 Current Population Survey to reflect Texas’ electorate. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the characteristics of the sample closely reflect the characteristics of registered voters in Texas.
The poll’s sampling error for 1,169 registered voters in Texas is +/- 2.87 percentage points at a 95% confidence interval.