The weapon used in Saturday’s Arizona killings, a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, is available in Minnesota.
In fact, according to a gun shop salesperson who declined to be identified, it is “one of the most popular” pistols on the market. (The New York Times offers a state-by-state look at guns laws affecting the pistol’s availability in this graphic.)
That monster 33-round magazine, used by alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner, also is legal and available in the state.
To be clear, the Glock 19 was not included in the federal ban, but there were size limits on magazines from 1994 to 2004. That limit, 10 rounds of ammunition, disappeared when the old restrictions were sunsetted.
Currently, according to web site specifics, the Glock 19 is sold with a 15-round magazine but it is compatible with the Glock 17 and 18 which are capable of holding magazines of up to 33 rounds. Those larger magainze now are legal.
This weapon was also the weapon of choice for Seung-Hui Cho, who in 2007, killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus.
There are far more restrictions on who can legally purchase a handgun in Minnesota than in Arizona, where there are essentially no limits to who can buy and carry a gun.
In Minnesota, for example, if a person purchases a gun from a federally licensed dealer, the purchaser must pass a federal background check, which is supposed to prevent people with mentally unstable or criminal backgrounds from purchasing a gun. Here, those who wish to carry a weapon must pass a background check and a course that shows the person seeking the permit to carry has a basic understanding of both the weapon and the resulting legal responsibilities.
But Heather Martens, head of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, points out that there are massive loopholes in Minnesota gun sales laws.
For example, at gun shows, which are popular in the state, federally licensed dealers must do the background checks to make sales. But non-licensed dealers face no such requirement. Additionally, there is no background check required if a private citizen wants to sell his or her weapon to another private citizen.
Martens says that her organization will again be at the Capitol attempting to lobby legislators to at least close those loopholes.
But the big push at the national level, she believes, will be to limit the size of the magazines that are legal.
“I think most people — even many gun owners — are really angry,” Martens said. “The issue of high-capacity magazines makes absolutely no sense.”
The math is simple: Someone who can rapidly fire 33 rounds before reloading creates far more mayhem than someone who can rapidly fire 10 rounds. It was while Loughner allegedly was trying to reload that he was subdued.
In Washington, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., is trying again going to come forward with legislation that would restrict the size of magazines. McCarthy’s husband was one of six people killed and her son severely wounded in a mass shooting on a Long Island commuter rail line in 1993.
Martens says legislators have been reluctant in recent years to strengthen restrictions on gun ownership and what weapons are legal. “I think there’s been a tendency [of legislators] to put their heads in the sand and not deal with it,” she said. “Now, you see the outcome. It’s tragic and it’s ridiculous.”
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen did issue a statement today calling for a task force to come up with “short-term actions to improve safety at the state Capitol.
Currently, weapons are allowed in the building if the person notifies the commissioner of public safety of the intent to carry a weapon.
One of the first major actions of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration was to dramatically loosen permit-to-carry laws in Minnesota. As a result, about 69,000 Minnesotans have permits to carry firearms.
(By the way, the popular term “conceal and carry” is not accurate. In Minnesota, concealment is not a requirement for those with permits.)
Thissen also called for all to “ratchet down the overheated rhetoric” that creates “a toxic environment.”
Martens, however, believes the public wants far more. At the least, she said, the nation needs to return to the period when assault weapons, such as the weapon used in Arizona, are banned.
But the reality, she said, has been the National Rifle Association’s push for watering down the tepid gun laws that remain. Recently, the NRA has been working to weaken the already weak Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the federal body that oversees licensing of gun dealers.
Currently, she said, there are only 600 agents nationwide charged with overseeing sales of weapons throughout the country.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.