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Focus group: Minnesota swing voters want stronger gun control

Illustration of a "greetings from Minnesota" postcard with a crossed out assault rifle on it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

EDINA, Minn. — After three deadly mass shootings in one week, some swing voters here are ready to ban assault weapons and institute federal background checks on all gun purchases.

  • That was one of the main takeaways from our Engagious/FPG focus group on Monday, which included 7 people who flipped from Barack Obama to Donald Trump and 4 who switched from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton.

Why it matters: While this is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters want the government to respond to the mass shootings that have shocked the nation. But there's still a long way for Congress to go before solutions like these are implemented.

  • It's especially complicated for Republicans. "GOP politicians are much more resistant to gun control than GOP voters are," per FiveThirtyEight's Perry Bacon Jr.
  • Republican lawmakers "have to be aware that a vote for some kind of gun control measure (even a popular one) could potentially get you cast as 'anti-gun,'" he writes, which could make them more vulnerable come election time.

We asked the participants if they thought there should be a federal ban on assault weapons in the U.S. Every single person raised their hand.

  • There hasn't been unanimous agreement on anything in any of our previous 5 focus groups this year.

What they're saying: The participants maintained that position even when presented with the counterargument that if we start banning assault weapons, the government will try to ban other guns.

  • "That's a bunch of BS," said Dennis Pearson, a 66-year-old Obama/Trump voter.
  • "If it's an assault gun, it should be taken away," said Virginia Bailey, a 55-year-old Obama/Trump voter. Pearson agreed: "They're only made to kill people."
  • These types of guns only have a place in the military or while hunting, others said.
  • "Anyone who feels the need to have an assault rifle probably shouldn't [have one]," said Theresa Nieswaag, a 34-year-old Obama/Trump voter.
  • "The Dayton shooter had a clip with 100 rounds in it," said 63-year-old Doug S., throwing his hands up, adding: "Unnecessary."
  • Various people nodded their heads and said "Oh, yes" and "wonderful" to the idea of Congress passing a law that bans the personal ownership of assault weapons.

There was also unanimous support among these Romney/Clinton and Obama/Trump voters for a federal background check on the purchase of a weapon.

  • Some said people should be required to say what they intend to do with the gun and why they need it.
  • One woman said gun buyers' Facebook pages should be checked for hints of whether they have bad intentions.

Between the lines: Nobody thought it would be a good solution to have more armed Americans as a way to try to stop mass shooters. Instead, they said they wished their representatives in Washington would focus on:

  • Mental health and having more affordable options to get help with that, particularly with medication and therapy.
  • Banning the resale of guns at gun shows.

These voters recognized that banning assault weapons wouldn't automatically fix the problem, but they all agreed it's a helpful starting point. "Having that barrier makes it a lot harder if it's criminalized," said Jordan R., a 26-year-old Romney/Clinton voter.

Go deeper: Watch the full focus group video on gun control.