The scene that played out at the Minnesota State Fair on a Saturday night this past September was an all too common one. Gunshots ringing out. Crowds stampeding towards the nearest exit. Chaos spiraling into panic and fear.
Threatened mass shootings are bad enough, the horror eclipsed only by mass shootings that come to pass.
Daniel Skripka and I both know the pain of gun violence firsthand. I was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in Tucson in 2011. I’ve spent the past 12 years relearning how to walk and talk. Both of Daniel’s sons, born here in Minnesota, survived the shooting at the Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019 when 23 people were murdered and 23 more were injured.
This tragedy in El Paso was not only heartbreaking, but also preventable. Weeks before the shooting, the gunman’s mother called police and expressed concern about her son having an “AK-style” weapon.
Nineteen states currently have extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws, which allows law enforcement or family members to petition a court to temporarily remove access to guns from someone who poses a risk to themselves or others. Texas and Minnesota are not among them.
An ERPO law, also known as a red flag law, uses due process to temporarily hold any weapons an individual may possess, and to prevent them from buying firearms for the duration of the order. It’s not an infringement on Second Amendment rights or unreasonable search/seizure. It is a commonsense tool that has already been used to prevent mass shootings and firearm suicide in red and blue states across the country.
Most mass shooters exhibit warning signs. An FBI study found the average shooter displayed four to five “observable and concerning behaviors” before their attacks. People who intend to take their own lives also often display observable warning signs.
Though guns are used in just 5% of suicide attempts, they account for more than half of suicide deaths. Removing a gun from someone in an acute crisis may very well save their lives.
Daniel and I are both gun owners. After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, I founded an organization, GIFFORDS, to advocate for safer gun laws. But we also believe in the Second Amendment right to bear arms, which is why we organize gun owners who believe that rights come with responsibilities.
Gun owners like Daniel, a former member of the military and sworn law enforcement officer, who has been a pistol carry permit holder in Minnesota for more than a decade. Daniel joined Minnesota Gun Owners for Safety because he understands that enacting common sense gun laws will keep us safe. Rights come with responsibilities.
Responsible gun owners know that these responsibilities include commonsense gun safety laws. Because people should be able to go to the Minnesota State Fair without fear of gunfire and a stampede.
The solution is clear. Minnesota needs to enact extreme risk protection order legislation, a policy supported by 76% of residents, and close dangerous loopholes that currently allow people who buy guns in unlicensed, private sales to do so without undergoing a background check. These policy changes won’t prevent every firearm suicide, and they aren’t a failsafe against all mass shootings. But they would be huge steps in the right direction.
For us, this is personal. And given that nearly every American will know a victim of gun violence in their lifetime, it’s personal for us all.
Gabby Giffords is a former United States Representative, gun violence survivor and founder of Giffords, Gun Owners for Safety. Daniel Skripka is a member of the Minnesota chapter from Eden Prairie.