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Strengthened gun laws: an opportunity for the Minnesota Legislature

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.

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.
REUTERS/Jim Young

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.

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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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