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Gun safety laws: Minnesota can and should do better

The enactment of stronger gun laws in Minnesota is now a matter of when, not if. Either lawmakers will pass common-sense gun bills, or voters will replace them with lawmakers who will.

In February 2014, I received a call from my sister, sobbing uncontrollably, who told me that a close family friend, the mother of three sisters we had grown up with, had been murdered. A convicted felon – who should never have had access to a firearm – shot and killed her when she opened her front door. Five years later, it’s still hard to come to terms with what happened. My friends will never get their mother back.

Gun violence is personal for so many of us in Minnesota. 465 Minnesotans died by firearm in 2017 – including one a day, on average, from firearm suicide alone.

With so many Minnesota families touched by gun violence, it’s not surprising that the public overwhelmingly supports reasonable gun safety laws, and it was truly shameful that the Legislature failed to send gun safety bills to the governor’s desk this year.

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A matter of when, not if

But if the legislative session made one thing clear, it’s this: The enactment of stronger gun laws in Minnesota is now a matter of when, not if. Either lawmakers will pass common-sense gun bills, or voters will replace them with lawmakers who will.

In recent years, the conversation around gun laws in the Minnesota Legislature has focused on two key policies: background checks on all gun sales and Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Both policies have broad support in Minnesota, including among gun owners and law enforcement leaders. When enacted, both will save lives.

These proposals, versions of which were debated in the Legislature this year, are not radical ideas. Star Tribune polling shows that 90 percent of Minnesota voters support background checks on all gun sales, including 87 percent of households with firearms. Polling also suggests widespread support for Extreme Risk Protection Order or Red Flag legislation, which would let law enforcement ask a court to temporarily block firearm access for someone who poses an extreme risk to self or others.

Law enforcement supports change

Minnesota law enforcement leaders, too, strongly support these measures. During multiple hearings this year, public safety leaders told lawmakers that background check and Red Flag legislation would help officers keep our communities safe.

Erin Zamoff
Erin Zamoff
Unfortunately, Minnesota lawmakers in the Senate again dragged their feet this year. While the House included both measures in omnibus public safety legislation, the Senate refused even to hold a hearing on these bills, and a conference committee failed to send these measures to the governor’s desk.

But while the legislature’s failure is truly frustrating, there are reasons to be optimistic.

As the Minnesota leader of a national organization of volunteers pushing for stronger gun laws, I talk with people across the state about this issue, and it’s clear the tide has shifted dramatically. One volunteer in the West Metro, a traditionally conservative voter, said that when she door-knocked for a local candidate, many neighbors who were gun owners said they supported these bills. Another volunteer had a friend and fellow pilot, a life-long Republican, change his mind on this issue after years of conversations.

In the lead-up to the 2018 election, our volunteers focused on key districts across the state, reaching thousands of voters through door-to-door canvassing, phone-banking and postcard-writing.

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Supporters at hearing after hearing 

After the election of a gun safety majority to the Minnesota House, this mobilization continued into the legislative session. Supporters of the background check and Red Flag measures packed hearing after hearing, and hundreds of volunteers — moms, dads, gun owners, students and others — rallied at the state Capitol.

Each of us brings to this issue our own stories, and it is these deeply personal motivations that power this movement in Minnesota and across the country.

Next month, I will see the daughters of our murdered friend at a national gun violence prevention conference that will be attended by volunteers and survivors from all over the country. Almost 2,000 people from across the country will be there. It will feel good to see them, join them in this movement to stop gun violence, and help prevent other senseless deaths. But I wish they still had their mom.

It is a shame that we have not yet passed common-sense bills in Minnesota that will help save lives. Minnesota can and should do better than this. And we will.

Erin Zamoff is the state leader of the Minnesota Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

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