Our discussion about guns too often focuses on gun control, and whether or not the government is “going to take your guns,” and not on preventing gun violence. My father is an avid hunter and is happy to know I’m not proposing legislation to take away guns. I want our focus to be on gun-violence prevention, and that is what my legislation is about.
Thousands of Minnesotans are affected every year by guns. In Minneapolis alone, we saw more than 1,300 gun-related incidents in 2012 (an increase from 2011) and more than 200 people were victims of a gunshot. Mass murders, such as the tragedy in Newtown, receive large media attention, but we have people dying every year in Minnesota. 2012 saw the most homicides in Minneapolis since 2007.
Critics of my legislation will point to the overall decreasing of gun violence. This is a great trend, and it is in no small part due to the focus Minneapolis has paid to gun violence prevention, but too many people are still victims. At the state level, we should support our local governments’ efforts to decrease gun violence.
Keep guns out of the wrong hands
To do this, we need to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. This starts with background checks. People with a violent past or who are predisposed to commit a violent act should not be allowed to buy and own guns.
A common-sense measure to ensure that everybody who buys a gun goes through a background check is to close the gun-show loophole. Currently, private sellers can attend gun shows and sell guns without performing a background check. We need to fix that. But this loophole isn’t just about gun shows. It applies to private sellers anywhere. In fact, it is a gap in the law, not a loophole. We need to ensure that anybody who buys a gun, in any capacity, is subject to a background check. No exceptions.
I understand that when we make it more difficult for people who shouldn’t own guns to buy guns, there is the possibility of creating more “straw buyers,” people who buy guns with the express intent of giving them to people who are not allowed to buy firearms. Additional legislation is proposed to have stricter enforcement of “straw buyers” and make the punishment fit the crime.
Plug holes in mental-health system
Background checks go hand-in-hand with plugging the holes in our mental-health system. We want to make sure everybody who suffers from a mental illness receives treatment. As we discuss mental-health issues, it is important we don’t place additional stigmas on those individuals suffering from a mental illness who are not any more prone to violence than anyone else. As a society, we have been working hard to change the negative stereotypes associated with mental-health issues, and encouraging people to seek help. We need to continue that trend, not further stigmatize citizens with mental illness. We need to have a balanced approached when discussing mental-health issues in regard to reducing gun violence.
If reducing gun violence were easy, we would have done it by now. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve. In order to solve the problem of gun violence, we need to move beyond the divisive “gun control” label.
Government policies can make a difference. The city of Minneapolis, through smart reforms, has proven that. By working with all stakeholders, we can further reduce gun violence throughout Minnesota.
Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, represents District 59 in the Minnesota Senate.
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