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Citizen to leaders: Support the stronger gun-control proposals

I urge all of you to support the stronger gun-control laws that have recently been proposed, including the prohibitions on certain types of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and the adoption of universal background checks.

Dear Sens. Klobuchar and Franken, and Rep. McCollum:

Neil Kraus
Neil Kraus

As a resident of St. Paul, I’m your constituent. While I was going to send a letter to your office, I decided to make more of a public plea, figuring my comments might have more of an impact this way. I believe that thousands of the residents of the state’s 4th Congressional District, let alone the entire state of Minnesota, agree with my position. I hope many of them are in the process of contacting you in one way or another. 

I urge all of you to support the stronger gun-control laws that have recently been proposed, including the prohibitions on certain types of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and the adoption of universal background checks.

The opponents of such measures have already lost the argument. I have heard no one who opposes theses types of proposals saying that they need assault-type weapons or high-capacity magazines for hunting or protection; nor have there been any arguments made against universal background checks. To the contrary, when opponents are asked about these specific proposals, they steadfastly refuse to address the questions directly, and instead choose to go back to talking points about the “best ways to protect children,” and the like.   

Another common response of gun-control opponents has been to repeat straw-man-type arguments like: “The president is trying to infringe on the rights of law abiding gun owners.”  This argument, aside from being false, is like saying drunk-driving laws infringe upon the rights of anyone who consumes alcohol. Such laws simply set the parameters of acceptable and safe behavior when one is consuming a substance that can, but does not in most cases, have deadly consequences.

The gun-control proposals listed above simply set the limits under which individuals can purchase and operate firearms, and do nothing to interfere with responsible gun owners. In short, opponents of these types of gun-control measures know that actually opposing them on the merits is the ultimate political loser, and so do all of you. 

America needs a civics lesson

Moreover, this is the perfect time for America to get a civics lesson. Contrary to much popular commentary these days, interpreting the Constitution is not quite as simple as reading a grocery list. As Matthew Filner eloquently wrote in a recent Community Voices commentary,  all rights have limits. All rights – including speech, press, religion, assembly, and yes, the 2nd amendment – have some limitations, as our courts have affirmed innumerable times over the last several decades. And this certainly includes the 2nd amendment rights, which Justice Scalia even conceded in his controversial majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller — he  stated that the amendment did not preclude government from passing laws “imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

How about the idea of armed guards or law enforcement in every school in the nation?  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 132,183 schools (public and private) in the United States in the 2009-10 school year. Presumably this proposal would involve more than one armed guard in each school (because at least one armed guard would have to be stationed at every entrance/exit), bringing the total number of armed guards to well over a quarter million.

These guards would have to be in the school for all the hours that the school is open, from early in the morning to well after school hours for sporting and other events. During a period of fiscal retrenchment at every level of government, it is difficult to even begin to consider the cost of such a proposal, not to mention the myriad potential consequences of increasing weapons in our schools.          

Minnesotans ‘get it’

When voting on any gun legislation, have faith in Minnesota citizens. They get it. The best evidence of this claim can be seen in the results of the 2012 election, in which 76 percent of eligible state residents voted. When Minnesota residents learned that the marriage amendment was redundant of state law, not to mention discriminatory, they voted against it. More telling are the election results involving the voter ID amendment. When Minnesotans learned that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, and that the proposed amendment would effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of otherwise eligible voters, not to mention the fact that it would be exceedingly expensive, they voted against it. The voter ID results are remarkable in light of the fact that a large majority of state residents supported the measure just months before the election.

Why the change?  Because people learned about what the amendment would do, and a majority rejected it. This proves that citizens can listen and learn about the effects of proposed policies within the context of an intelligent debate. 

The same goes with gun-control laws, which are much easier to explain than why we don’t need voter ID laws. Certain guns and ammunition go well beyond self-defense and hunting; many of these types of weapons have been used in various recent shootings across the country; and everyone who buys a firearm should have to undergo a background check. That’s it. Most people agree with these relatively modest measures. Besides, the burden is on the other side to explain why, according to their logic, they’re not entitled to things like machine guns, bazookas, rocket launchers, and bombs of all sorts. 

‘Democracy decays’

In responding to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union comments, in which the president criticized those who adhere to absolutes on the gun-control issue, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre said, “Absolutes do exist, it’s the basis of all civilization. …Without those absolutes, democracy decays into nothing more than two wolves and one lamb voting on who to eat for lunch.”  

And yet this is exactly the type of democracy that LaPierre is advocating with what is basically a might-makes-right approach to the world, where gun owners are the wolves and non-gun owners are the lambs. This position essentially endorses the notion that the rights of gun owners trump everyone else’s rights to everything else. Obama, as a former constitutional law professor, hinted at this point after Newtown, but it’s time to make this point more forcefully. 

While modest gun-control measures tend to be popular, the people need leaders, and this is where you come in. When people learn about specifics, public opinion changes, as we recently saw with the Voter ID amendment. You need to lead, to speak out on this issue. As they have shown many times, Minnesotans will listen.

It’s time to publicly and repeatedly affirm that gun rights have limits, that current proposals are modest, sensible ways to make public places safer, and that they do nothing to infringe upon law-abiding citizens’ ability to hunt or defend themselves.  


Neil Kraus

Neil Kraus, of St. Paul, is an associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls.


Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schmitz on 03/08/2013 - 11:09 am.


    WE seem to have lost the social compact that formerly modified our behaviors to allow us to live in a diverse society, we no longer trust the police to keep us safe, we don’t trust the utilities to keep the lights on, and we don’t trust religion to be a moral touchstone.

    So we now want to buy the most incredible guns to protect ourselves and carry them wherever we want. I see this as being an effort to intimidate others, as has been noted we cannot yell during a public discussion, but we can carry a highly visible firearm. I don’t have to go to some ones house if I feel their firearms are not conducive to a pleasant visit, but I cannot protect myself from that neighbors use of firearms when he choses to fire at the trespassers in his back yard, and indirectly shoots at my home. The biker in the hells angels colors is trying to intimidate others, so are those who carry firearms and that interferes with my right to life and liberty and happiness, so why do the carry laws trump my rights.

  2. Submitted by Ken Davis on 03/08/2013 - 11:37 am.

    Dear Sens. Klobuchar and Franken, and Rep. McCollum:

    I disagree with this public plea.

    Thank you.

  3. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 03/08/2013 - 03:28 pm.

    Dear Sens. Klobuchar and Franken, and Rep. McCollum

    I agree with this public plea.

  4. Submitted by Brent Passarella on 03/13/2013 - 01:47 pm.

    I am a Minnesotan, and I disagree with you

    Dear Neil,
    I respectfully disagree with your opinion on this subject. I respect your opinion, as well as you being able to act on your opinion by speaking out on a public forum such as this. I would NEVER use force against you to keep you from having, or acting on your opinion. That being said, the opposite is not true, you do not respect my opinion, and would use deadly force in order to achieve your goals. You are asking for a ban on things that I own, which ultimately means a confiscation. I do not want to give up my large magazines, and as a result of your pleas I interpret that you are asking government workers armed with large capacity magazines and the same rifles you want to ban to take my magazines and rifles from me, lock me up or even kill me if these magazines and rifles are somewhere you feel like they shouldn’t be. This flies at the face of everything the constitution stands for, which is the people’s right to liberty; Which more specifically is the ability to live life free from government interference, assuming the person doesn’t violate anyone else’s rights. If you think you have a right to “feel safe” in a public place, I’d suggest you re-read the constitution, because I didn’t find it in there. Furthermore, you argue that rights have limits… how do you explain the 2nd Amendment, which is written in a specific way to prevent the ownership of arms from being limited in any way. “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” Definition of infringe: “Act so as to limit or undermine (something)”. So your argument that rights have limits is not valid in the case of the 2nd Amendment. Why do you feel the need to use force against me to keep me from owning certain types of firearms when I have done nothing to you? Why are you only as brave as your keyboard, and type it in…. why not go door to door, and try to collect these so-called assault rifles yourself if you really believe it should be done? Why is the constitution meaningless to you? I just want to make it clear, you do not speak for all Minnesotans and I resent the way you pretentiously pretend to do so.

    Thank you,

  5. Submitted by Dan Hill on 03/13/2013 - 09:26 pm.

    Even though I am not from Illinois, I cannot let someone from Minnesota make such a ludicrous comment as this person did in his first paragraph. Gun Rights people have lost the argument already? Apparently you only have one or two friends who are gun advocates, and they probably dont own guns or have never handled a firearm unfairly labelled an “assault weapon”.

    Clearly, when gun control advocates refer to Assault weapons, they almost always are referring to AR-15’s.

    I am a police officer and own an AR-15. It is a fantastic defensive weapon. It has a 30 round magazine. Lets separate that AR-15 from the 30 round magazine and look at them separately, because this guy wants them both banned. An AR-15 is not a very powerful rifle. It is easy to handle, which is why most police departments use them and why it is a very popular weapon. It fires no differently than many other rifles that are not called “AR-15”, but for some reason those rifles are not illegal. An AR-15, or any “assault weapon” are no less lethal than other firearms, and most gun control advocates have no idea because they have never held or fired a firearm in their life.

    AR-15s are ideal for home defense. A Shotgun is much more cumbersome to use than an AR-15. There is no comparison.

    I have the right to protect my family with 30 rounds, and no one has the right to tell me I can only use 10. Dont say I can reload at home, because that is not true if you are surprised and not allowed to prepare. The one who is prepared, the criminal breaking into my home, will have numerous magazines, and can reload. I will be waking up and holding my gun while wearing only my underwear. I will not have time to grab a second magazine, and would have nowhere to hold it.. Reducing magazine capacity to only 10 rounds puts a homeowner at a huge disadvantage, and doesnt make sense. Couple that with the act that a VAST VAST majority of gun deaths involve incidences in which less than 5 rounds are fired total. Magazines over 10 rounds are not an issue in nearly all of these shootings. If you prepare, like the Va Tech shooter did, reloading will not make you any less lethal. He did not have “Assault Weapons” or high capacity magazines. He reloaded over and over and used two ordinary handguns.

    AR-15’s and rifles in general kill less than 400 people a year. It is not an issue worth discussing when there are dozens of causes of death that take more lives per year. More people drown per year than are shot by an AR-15. More people die of poisoning than are killed by an AR-15.

    If you dont want an AR-15, dont buy one. But you have no right to tell me I cannot own one, or tell me that the lives of my family are only worth 10 bullets.

    Absolutely craziness.

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