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

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

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

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.

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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 EverytownResearch.org and Harvard School of Public Health.

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