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Strengthened gun laws: an opportunity for the Minnesota Legislature

REUTERS/Jim Young
It's as if we've become government of, by and for the gun lobby, where anyone can purchase a gun, no matter how dangerous he or she may be to others.

The recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll on gun control confirms that the views of a large majority (82 percent) of Minnesotans have been ignored by our elected officials. The poll determines that we who support stricter background checks on all gun sales constitute a large majority in all broad categories of Minnesotans, including gender, income level, place of residence, political affiliation and whether or not we own guns.

Rich Cowles

This finding presents the Minnesota Legislature with a remarkable opportunity to rebuild public trust in representative government. Not only have prior state legislative sessions yielded no action on gun control, but Congress has also consistently refused to listen to the large majority of Americans favoring expanded background checks (CBS News/New York Times, Gallup polls). With vote after vote, most of our elected representatives have shown that their loyalties are to the gun lobby and its political funds, not to the citizens they represent.

It’s as if we’ve become government of, by and for the gun lobby, where anyone can purchase a gun, no matter how dangerous he or she may be to others. Extremist gun rights have become more important than our right to walk down the street, send our kids to school or attend large events without fear of becoming another gun violence statistic. The fear of being shot has become as American as Mom, apple pie and, well, gun violence.

This is not the climate we want to live or raise our children in. We’re sickened by the number of lives cut short by preventable gun violence. Our hearts grieve for the families among us who sit down to meals with an empty chair, for whom the terror of a moment will never go away.

A gun ends 1 life a day in Minnesota

As one of these majority voices, I appeal to our elected state representatives to address out-of-control gun violence, to summon the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and take action to save lives. In Minnesota a gun ends a human life every day. Certainly none of our elected officials wants to be remembered by the final judgment of history as aiding and abetting daily murders and suicides by refusing to restrict gun access to anyone — not even felons or underage teens.

Some legislators may say they’ve simply no choice but to protect gun-owners’ rights at all costs, given the Second Amendment. But, of course, the Constitution doesn’t place gun rights above all other rights. Common-sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of troubled and violent people do not trample on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

Some will be tempted to use the “slippery-slope” reason for inaction — hiding behind the notion that any gun control measure will set in motion a succession of egregious laws oppressing gun-owners — first gun registry, then confiscating everyone’s guns. But, of course, that’s only a sensational fear tactic by the gun lobby, as Congress has prohibited the registration of commercially available guns. Further, guns are so plentiful that confiscation wouldn’t even be a practical possibility.

I ask our state representatives to rise above the cowardice shown by many of our congressional representatives in Washington, who are so cowed by the “slippery-slope” argument, for instance, that they even defeated a proposal to restrict suspected terrorists’ access to weapons. Suspected terrorists can’t board airplanes, but they’re free to buy whatever guns they choose. Apparently, to Congress, the threat of terrorism is less onerous than strengthened gun laws.

There will be people who will point to specific mass shootings where strengthened laws wouldn’t have prevented the perpetrators from obtaining guns. But, of course, that’s a gun-lobby smokescreen, as there are many other killings that strengthened laws would have prevented. How many lives need to be wasted because a new law wouldn’t be 100 percent effective?

Majority’s views ignored for too long

Our majority voices have been ignored for many years. In the meantime, the gun lobby has worked to weaken existing laws and to arm every man, woman and child regardless of suitability for owning guns. We’ve become a society out of a Hollywood horror movie, much to the astonishment of civilized nations all over the world.

I ask our state representatives to listen to our majority voices and make Minnesota once again a model state where democracy works on behalf of its citizens. Pass sensibly stricter gun access legislation — not sometime in the future, but now, in this legislative session.

Rich Cowles was executive director of the Charities Review Council before he retired. Now he’s a part-time volunteer, part-time writer and full-time grandfather. 

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 02/15/2016 - 09:46 am.

    Please let me know who decides if someone is “suitable” to own a gun? What laws are you talking about? I hear many liberal talking points as you point to gun lobbying talking points. Please tell me the common sense laws that will help with gun violence? More specifically, give me a law that will stop the area in Minnesota where the most shots fired & gun violence are reported, North Mpls.

    All I got from this article is you believe there is a problem but didn’t come up with one concrete solution. The gun show debate will come up now.. ok.. what other law would you like to pass? What percentage of gun crimes in N Mpls are committed with guns bought at gun shows?

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/15/2016 - 10:30 am.

    Since this is the majority view …

    I call on all (democrat) politicians running for election this Fall, including those running for president, to take up this cause as their primary issue.

    And if you don’t, then you’re obviously pandering to the “gun lobby.”

  3. Submitted by Dale Lawrence on 02/15/2016 - 01:59 pm.

    Crime in Minnesota

    Mr. Cowles article is high on hyperbole and low on facts. The truth is, that looking at the Minnesota Law Enforcement Crime Report data, it is clear that over the last ten years (2005-2014) the murder rate in Minnesota has averaged 1.87/100,000. This is the lowest ten year average since the 1960’s. Very curious if Mr. Cowles has any concern about those killed by people using knives, hands, feet, blunt instruments, cars, drugs, fire or asphyxiation? Why the concern about only one weapon? The “as American as apple pie” fear of being shot that Mr. Cowles has is a fantasy world of his own making.

  4. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 02/15/2016 - 02:40 pm.

    Better Background checks

    I would ask Mr. Cowles what type of background check would he run on people who plan on purchasing a gun? As a retired Minnesota Police Officer, after reading the article, I have come to the conclusion the Cowles doesn’t know a thing about criminal background checks and neither do most of the 82% of people who also want stricter background checks. He makes some really outrageous statements, such as the Gun lobby defeated a bill that allows SUSPECTED terrorists to buy a gun. It is laughable. Just because somebody is a suspect in something doesn’t mean they are actually what they are suspected of. Police also can’t jail people on suspicion of something, if they could millions of people would be jailed each year without an ounce of proof. That having been said there is not a law enforcement agency in the country that reports their suspects to any national data base. There is also not a national data base for crazy people, or violent people unless they have been convicted of a crime. Cowles Orwellian ideas won’t work, simply because there is no national data base for some of his suggestions and God help us all if there ever is.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/16/2016 - 12:50 pm.

      I agree…kind of

      I agree that we need to be more thoughtful about “suspected” criminals. BUT…how does denying interstate travel to a “suspected terrorist” via flying differ from denying access to a deadly weapon to a “suspected terrorist”? I also guarantee you that a measurable number of people in the prison system in this country are jailed almost entirely on suspicion, not credible proof. What about people who can’t vote because, at some time, they broke a law? Isn’t that a form of suspicion, especially if those people have fulfilled their punishment. I challenge the people on the Second Amendment high horse figure out how we deal with punishment based on suspicion over all, rather than fretting about whether we should make guns universally available. Quite frankly, if you’ve committed a serious enough crime to not be able to vote, why not make sure you’re not able to be in possession of a deadly weapon? By the way, this is coming from a gun owner and Second Amendment defender. But it’s also coming from a common sense point of view.

      • Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 02/16/2016 - 08:41 pm.

        Voting and felonies

        We need a little more common sense here. We just recently passed legislation in MN to allow felons STILL ON PROBATION (PAROLE?) to vote. But they STILL can’t be found in possession of a firearm (and note that something as innocuous as an AirSoft gun has been ruled and firearm and a man here in MN has gone back to jail because of it.

        My 18-year-old son did some stupid stuff, and ended up with a 5th degree felony drug offense. He is now thirty five and has been on the the straight an narrow for nearly 15 years. He still can’t go hunting with the family.

        Something is wrong with that.

        • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/17/2016 - 08:20 am.

          Violent offense?

          If your son committed a violent act, particularly with a firearm, or used a firearm to commit a crime (whether violence was committed or not) I’m afraid that I agree with that position. Actions have consequences, regardless of whether those actions were objectively stupid or not. Some things have permanent consequences, even if you’re only 18.

          Now, if he didn’t commit a crime as I described above (I suspect his “stupid stuff” stems from drug possession, not violence), I agree that we need to be smarter about how we punish people. The punishment should fit the crime.

          As far as probation and parole, if the offender has served his time, he should be re-enfranchised. That is, if we believe the person is fit to leave the prison, we should start treating them like ordinary citizens again, with as few caveats as possible.

  5. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 02/15/2016 - 04:27 pm.

    “Gun safety”

    Nice. Start with a half-way well-reasoned article, and then finish with name-calling (cowards).

    Facts:

    1) You are correct…there is somewhere close to ZERO (and perhaps negative) correlation between gun laws and gun violence. What drives people nuts are the mass-killings perpetrated by either the mentally ill or persons of an Islamic bent of one sort or another. No gun law has ben proposed that would have prevented any of those…AND in the place where the law might have come close regulatory imcompetence blew the chance.

    2) I don’t know who the ‘gun lobby’ is. Do you mean the NRA? If so, you are not talking about a faceless-nameless lobby. You are talking about the nearly 5 million people who send in a substantial dollar amount of dues money every year with the EXPECTATION that the organization will fight tooth and nail to protect their person rights.

    3) No…the government would NEVER abuse its power to regulate firearms transfer and ownership. Never. Except that they will. They show themselves capable of it all the time–IRS, EPA, DOL, FBI, Dept of Ed, Fish and Wildlife, Dept of Interior…the list goes on and on…Dem and Repub.

    4) I doubt your ’82 percent’ poll number. All depends on how you ask the question. And remember this: It doesn’t matter anyway. The constitution was put in place to protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority. You want a change? Get up a movement to repeal the Second Amendment. Then you will see how your ’82 percent’ hold up!

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/17/2016 - 08:31 am.

      Huh

      So, Christians that commit mass murder are mentally ill, but Muslims that commit mass murder are…Muslims? C’mon. If you’re going to talk in absolutes, it makes sense to think your statements through very thoroughly. Otherwise, it puts your whole premise into question. And I do question your premise. You’re assuming, despite plain written language to the contrary, that anyone wants to repeal the Second Amendment. There are definitely solutions that work within the Second Amendment that will have a positive effect if we’re smart about it. But…it seems there are some people with their fingers in their ears saying “lalalalalala”.

      And let’s hit on that NRA point. If there are, indeed, “nearly 5 million” people who send “substantial dollar amounts” to NRA, they represent only 1.6% (generous calculation, by the way) of Americans. More importantly, they represent less than 5% of gun owners in the US. Are you telling me that your dollar should buy more rights than my vote? No. I don’t accept that. That attitude is a good reason for the rest of us to consider Bernie Sanders for president.

  6. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 02/15/2016 - 04:52 pm.

    One other thing…

    If you are really that concerned about gun violence in MN, why don’t you go to work on the hot spots in North Minneapolis? Good luck with that.

    Hint: The problem is not the guns.

  7. Submitted by Dale Lawrence on 02/15/2016 - 05:19 pm.

    Polls

    I am so glad that I live in a country where my right to protect myself is not subject to what Rich Cowles or a “poll” says. Forgive me if I take my self defense advice from experts in the field and not those who know nothing about the tools of self defense or how they work. Minnesota passed the personal protection act in 2003 making Minnesota a “shall issue” state. I assume this is one of the “extremist” laws that Mr. Cowles hates. In the following 11 years the murder rate is down 36.26% and the violent crime rate is down 16.173%. During that time the number of valid permits to carry in Minnesota went from 15,677 (.3% of the population) to 184,985 ( 3.41% of the population). At the end of January that number was at 221,712. How about this poll, permits to carry are up 19.85% in the last 13 months. That means more and more Minnesotans have paid $200 or more and taken hours out of thier schedules to take a class, visit thier sheriff’s office and get a permit to carry.
    On personal note, I hope and pray the Mr. Cowles gets treatment for the unreasonable fear that he lives with.

  8. Submitted by Jodie Henjum on 02/15/2016 - 07:04 pm.

    Rich Cowles” “Strengthened Gun Laws..”

    As one of “the majority of 82%,” I’d like to thank Rich for his fearless point of view which many of us share. Let the criticisms fly, but do not attack the writer. His is one single voice, but sings in a huge choir of like-minded voices. He does not profess to be an attorney, a legislator, a judge. There are elected officials and professionals aplenty whose job is to legislate, pass and uphold laws. Mr. Cowles is a citizen, a writer, a grandfather, and an avid proponent of our constitutional rights, including the right to feel safe in our homes, our cars… The legislators, however, work for him, and the rest of the choir. Let him sing, and let them listen. Let him voice his views, and let them legislate and protect our citizenry. Lets all hope that his eloquent example of our “freedom of speech” leads to action by our legislatures, many of whom adhere to “Minnesota nice.” Perhaps championing “Minnesota safe” would be a better cause…I hope that the generations to come, our combined progeny, can live free of fear and daily violence. The hunters will still hunt, the recreational gun owners will still fire off rounds, but our streets and homes will be safe havens again, as the smoke clears. I thank the many, like Rich Cowles, who take the risk to speak their minds. Please let them do so, free of bullying and ridicule. Even if I were one of the minority of 18% on this topic, I would still support his right to speak, and I would listen, and I would consider, the alternate viewpoint, because that is what good citizenship requires.

    • Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 02/15/2016 - 11:36 pm.

      Safety

      You are not safer if he gets his ‘gun safety; laws passed. Nor are you in any greater danger because I have the permit and choose to carry the firearm.

      On the other hand, I would argue that you are, indeed, SAFER because I do. The fact that I carry not only protects me, it protects you as well. (Take a look at the idea of ‘herd immunity’.) A bad never knows when he is going to pick the wrong guy–like the young thugs did along the Mississippi River this past year.

    • Submitted by Dale Lawrence on 02/16/2016 - 09:04 am.

      Free speech

      Thankfully, you and I and Mr. Cowles have the freedom to speak about what we believe. I have listened and considered what you and Mr. Cowles think and have come to the conclusion that you have not spent any time trying to “..consider the alternative viewpoint”. Mr. Cowles is obviously not a proponent of my constituional right to bear arms, since he wants to make it more expensive, time consuming or limit where I may exercise that right. No one has the right to “feel safe”. You do have the right to BE safe (ie; life, liberty and the persuit of hapiness), which is why I would encourage to take some basic self defence classes and perhaps even learn to shoot.

  9. Submitted by Terry Elliott on 02/15/2016 - 08:22 pm.

    Other facts

    “It’s as if we’ve become government of, by and for the gun lobby, where anyone can purchase a gun, no matter how dangerous he or she may be to others.” What are you talking about? You act as if there is no background check system at all, when the vast majority of purchases go through it.

    Of course criminals and street thugs don’t go through it. They get their gun on the street, from their brothers, from straw purchasers (who, even when caught, are rarely punished), and from gun thefts.

    The “1 gun death a day” stat ignores the intentional act of suicide, which accounts for 60% of gun deaths (FBI, 2013). And of the remainder, less than half of homicides used a handgun.

    Meanwhile, the FBI also reports (2013) that 281 citizens in the US killed a felon in the commission of a felony. Probably 6 to 10 times that number defended themselves using a firearm similarly in an act that didn’t result in death (i.e., didn’t fire, held them until the cops came, wounded the felon, etc.).

    The Justice Department (2014) reports that expanding background checks further simply increases the number of straw purchases. Nothing is improved, but gun owners, who pay for all background checks, get more hassle, delay, and expense.

  10. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/16/2016 - 06:50 pm.

    Lying Statistics and probability

    In a population of 100,000 if there are “zero” guns with bullets in them. The probability of getting killed or committing suicide with a gun are 0 in 100,000. The probability of a bad guy stealing a gun and shooting someone is zero, the probability of a mentally ill person getting their hands on a gun and killing someone is zero, the probability of a 3 year old accidentally shooting an 11 year old sibling is zero.
    The point is no one is asking for zero, we are asking for a conversation somewhere between “zero” and all guns for all people at all times in unlimited quantities.

    The more rain clouds in the sky the greater the chance of rain, not vice a versa!

    PS: The NRA was formed to teach marksmanship.

    • Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 02/16/2016 - 08:54 pm.

      Buying a gun

      Have you bought a gun recently? I am guessing ‘not’. The current state of the law is DEFINITELY NOT ‘all guns for all people all of the time’.

      Sane, law-abiding citizens in MN jump through plenty of hoops to buy a gun…even MORE hoops to buy a handgun, or an AR-style rifle.

      You have two big problems with your approach.:

      1) Non-law-abiding people are, by definition, not law-abiding, and are therefore UNIMPEDED by your additional laws.

      2) Most of the shooters in the mass-shootings that drive us so mad are insane, but law-abiding citizens. The problem becomes apparent only after-the-fact. Most bought their weapons legally. I have yet to see a proposed law that is gonna fix that.

      Making lawful gun-owners jump through more hoops fixes precisely nothing.

  11. Submitted by Will Vervair on 02/23/2016 - 12:55 pm.

    Facts? Facts would be nice.

    “A gun ends 1 life a day in Minnesota”

    That is not even close. It’s not even one gun per week.

    http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/02/12/good-question-how-many-people-are-killed-by-assault-rifles/

    Is WCCO a good source? If they are not dead on I would argue they are close….

    “According to the Minnesota report to the FBI in 2011, the last year there is Uniform Crime Report Data, three people were murdered with a rifle of any type. The report does not break rifle murders into “assault” rifles.

    Four died in fist fights, 12 by knife and 51 by handguns in Minnesota in 2011.”

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