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Door knocking about guns brings out the good, the poignant and the decent

REUTERS/Joshua Lott
The huge majority — 82 percent — of Minnesotans, including 74 percent of gun owners, support criminal background checks on all gun sales.

Not being particularly extroverted, I shy away from grass-roots political activities like “door knocking.” The last time I did so bold a thing, my wife and I were pushing a baby stroller. That baby now has his own kids.

Rich Cowles

It’s because of that new generation — doing whatever I can to protect my grandkids from gun violence — that I finally got off the advocacy sidelines. Introvert or not, I could no longer ignore the facts. For example: a) the huge majority — 82 percent — of Minnesotans, including 74 percent of gun owners, support criminal background checks on all gun sales; b) where required, they’ve saved many lives — in the states (18 and counting) that require background checks on all sales, gun deaths have been nearly cut in half in several categories, including women shot by domestic abusers, law enforcement officers shot in the line of duty, and suicides); c) despite these statistics, the Minnesota Legislature refuses to pass such a law.

It’s time to elect a legislature that represents Minnesota’s culture of responsible gun ownership and saves lives.

Almost invariably friendly

The issues may have changed in three-plus decades, yet the value of knocking on doors to talk face-to-face on critical issues is as great as ever. People in the metro suburban areas where I door knocked were almost invariably friendly, making even this apprehensive activist-wannabe feel comfortable. Rather than being annoyed at me for interrupting their busy Saturday, most thanked me for the information; many indicated that, with knowledge of candidates’ positions on background checks, they could finally do something meaningful about gun violence.

It wasn’t unusual to find people who’ve brushed with gun violence, or who are distressed that we’re raising our kids in a culture where gun violence is normal. I stood in solidarity with other grandparents who believe we must take a stand now so our grandchildren will grow up in a culture of responsible gun ownership, where gun violence is aberrant and shocking.

One of the more memorable discussions was with a young veteran. He said he and his military buddies lived with gun violence every day. They knew what it means, he said, to have your life at risk, and they understood the power of a gun. He eagerly pledged to support “gun-sense” candidates because “there are so many out there who have no idea what it means to have the power to take someone’s life.”

Finding common ground

At one house, a man wearing a Smith & Wesson hat opened the door. I introduced myself and said I was knocking on doors in support of candidates who support sensible gun policies. He said, “I’m against taking people’s guns away. People should be able to defend themselves.”

“I agree,” I said. “Gun-sense candidates want to make sure guns stay out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.” We agreed on that as well. Just like that, we moved beyond the gun-lobby myth of taking guns away, to find common ground. I left with his signed pledge to support gun-sense candidates.

At another house, the man quipped a terse “Not interested”; the woman shot back, “Well I am.” She told me her teenage son’s friend had committed suicide with a gun he’d found in his father’s dresser. The tragedy had stolen her son’s youth.

Two weeks later, she and her son joined us door knocking, and the father signed a pledge card. The mom told us the topic of preventing gun violence came up at dinner, and their son talked about why it mattered so much to him. He said he’s learned that suicide is typically an impulsive act, and that the large majority — nearly 90 percent — of people who survive a suicide attempt don’t re-attempt. With a gun, they rarely get a second chance at life.

At the end of the day, I was reminded that Minnesotans are just plain decent folks, no matter the decade. At one of the few homes where the resident was decidedly unsupportive, he abruptly ended the conversation. I thanked him for his time and began walking away when he called to me. He wanted to know if I’d like a drink of water on a warm day.     

Rich Cowles, retired, is a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense / Everytown for Gun Safety. Data from and Harvard School of Public Health.


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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Sean O'Brien on 10/28/2016 - 10:28 am.

    Common Ground

    It is a shame that universal background checks cannot become law in our state despite widespread support as the two political parties are incapable of compromising. Gun violence is a dire problem, it needs to be addressed, and background checks have been shown to be successful in reducing it. Please don’t take a slippery slope argument with this or point out that “Well it wouldn’t have prevented Orlando.”

    I’d like to blame an obstructionist GOP for lack of legislative action on the issue (I have to say I despise Mr. Daudt and his constant posturing/blaming antics), but in reality we ALL need to demand solutions from both sides on this. The DFL is clearly not above placing political considerations above the common good of Minnesotans and they need to be held accountable as well.

    I applaud Mr. Cowles for taking action to raise this issue and find common ground across political lines.

    • Submitted by Brian Stricherz on 10/28/2016 - 01:09 pm.

      I also applaud…..

      ….. Mr. Cowles for taking action despite not being particularly extroverted. I can also appreciate the motivations behind the drive.

  2. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/28/2016 - 04:04 pm.

    Have You Been to a Gun Show?

    This column doesn’t actually state the problem that universal background checks purport to address – the so-called gun show loophole.

    Matt Snyders, writing for City Pages, sets out to make a gun show handgun purchase. Snyders has never owned nor fired a hand gun nor has he ever attended a gun show. If you have never attended a gun show, please read the column (linked below). Many people proposing gun policy have insufficient gun experience to be schooling the rest of us.


    “Six days, three gun shows, and 19 attempts to buy handguns sans permit had yielded zero sales.”

    Link to “Testing Minnesota’s gun show loophole”:

  3. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/28/2016 - 06:25 pm.

    Where do criminals get their guns?

    A Newsweek article from earlier this year asks the question, “GUN CONTROL: WHERE DO CRIMINALS GET THEIR WEAPONS?”


    “A consistent answer emerges from the inmate surveys and from ethnographic studies. Whether guns that end up being used in crime are purchased, swapped, borrowed, shared or stolen, the most likely source is someone known to the offender, an acquaintance or family member. That Farook’s (San Bernadino shooters) friend and neighbor was the source of two of his guns is quite typical, despite the unique circumstances otherwise. Also important are “street” sources, such as gang members and drug dealers, which may also entail a prior relationship.”

    So-called universal background checks, while sounding good, do not keep guns from criminals.

  4. Submitted by Kevin Vick on 10/28/2016 - 09:42 pm.

    “Universal” Background Check Failure

    Washington State instituted this very “gun sense” legislation as did Colorado. According to the FBI, less than 2% and 4% of all transfers respectively were between private parties. This leads to only two possible conclusions. Either the oft touted 40% of gun transfers being between private parties is a complete fallacy or the new law turned tens of thousands of law abiding citizens into criminals. Neither is the outcome so called “universal” background checks seeks.

    This is simply opiate for the masses. It’s not effective legislation that will impact the already plummeting rate of gun homicides in this country. According to the DOJ and Pew Research, gun homicide has decreased 49% and total gun crime has decreased a staggering 69% over the past twenty years. Yet 80% of the American public thinks it’s the same or higher. Facts trump emotions and politics.

  5. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/29/2016 - 03:01 pm.

    Claims Regarding Suicide

    You claim “suicide is typically an impulsive act”, but provide no source for this assertion. All of your claims are unsourced; you quote several percentages, but do not back them. What about the suicides that are due to deep depression, when a person feels that death is a less painful alternative to life? Restricting access from guns does not deal with the root cause of suicide. Unless you are dealing with the root cause of a problem, you are not attacking the problem but merely playing around the periphery.

    With nearly no civilian gun ownership, the rate of suicide in Japan is nearly twice that of the U.S. Let’s not pretend that guns cause suicide or that reduction of guns is a suicide solution. In Japan, twice the suicide rate is achieved by what some term “less lethal” methods. While rare in the U.S., detergent suicide is common in Japan. But dead is dead, and the fact that people in Japan have no access to guns is not keeping them safe from suicide.

    This Washington Post link leads to a table of suicide rate by country. South Korea has the highest suicide rate and very restrictive gun laws.

    As the Washington Post graphic clearly shows, many countries have higher suicides rates that the United States, even Canada.

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 10/30/2016 - 09:37 am.

    I don’t get the point of this article?

    Unless you sell your gun in a private sale, you have to go through a back ground check. Gun shows included! The problem is not lawfully owned guns, it is all the illegal guns being bought and sold to folks who couldn’t buy a gun lawfully. Where is the solution to that problem? I agree with everyone who wants to get the guns out of the hands of folks who shouldn’t have them. What does that have to do with legal gun ownership? As I learned in the 1950’s by my WWII vet father, a gun is a tool no better or worse than a hammer, it is the person handling the gun that determines how it will be used. The process to getting guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them requires tough solutions, not some touchy feely article about how we all want to be safe.

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