By Don Davis
President Barack Obama will tell select Minnesotans on Monday about his plan to reduce gun violence by increasing gun-buyer background checks, outlawing assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips and strengthening programs to prevent the mentally ill from become mass shooters.
But he is not coming to a state that will offer its full support to such actions.
While there appears to be broad agreement that keeping guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people is a good idea, many Minnesotans — especially in rural areas — fear Obama’s ideas overall will hamper gun ownership.
“The only thing that worries me about the president coming here is that a week after he leaves there won’t be any guns left on the shelves,” Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said, indicating that Obama’s appearance will convince gun supporters that they need to buy guns while they still can.
“This guy is the chief gun salesman in the United States right now,” Cornish added.
Cornish and other outspoken gun-control opponents probably will not receive invitations to Obama’s closed-door Minneapolis meetings Monday.
The president plans to be in Minnesota less than three hours, meeting with political and law enforcement leaders.
A White House spokesman said he did not know why Minnesota was picked for Obama’s first stop outside Washington to promote the gun violence plan. He will not appear in public, but the media will be allowed to cover some presidential remarks.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents rural western Minnesota, is among those who question some of Obama’s proposals.
“There are a lot of people out there who don’t think anyone should have any guns,” said the Democrat, an avid hunter and owner of 25 to 30 guns whose most recent purchase was a bolt-action rifle he bought from a Detroit Lakes gun shop Wednesday.
Peterson and many other gun supporters say they could accept some changes, but others reject any changes and prefer to see fewer gun laws and regulations.
“I have tried to keep an open mind about this and wait until we actually see bills,” Peterson said.
Obama’s proposal includes a mixture of actions he can take on his own and laws Congress would need to pass.
Chief among the president’s plan is requiring background checks on any potential gun purchaser, including private gun sales that now are exempt. He also would require more thorough background checks and outlaw assault weapons and ammunition clips holding more than 10 bullets.
Even many gun supporters back his idea of increasing mental health treatment.
Obama also wants more counselors in schools.
The furor raised by recent mass shootings brought calls on state and federal levels to outlaw assault weapons, but Peterson said that is more hype than reality.
“I can shoot my pump shotgun faster than I can an automatic,” Peterson said, and “assault weapons” are the same as rifles that farmers and ranchers use to shoot “prairie dogs and varmints.”
As for high-capacity ammo clips, Cornish and Peterson said they can be fabricated easily by gun owners, so outlawing them would do little.
Besides, they said, there are plenty of guns and clips already available.
Obama does have his supporters in Minnesota.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is putting his gun violence efforts behind mental health bills.
“If they are treated early, they will not get more violent,” Franken said about the mentally ill.
“We are talking about making kids happier, we are talking about making kids more productive,” Franken said.
Count Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar as another Obama supporter.
“As a former prosecutor, I know the importance of enforcing the laws we have on the books, but I have also heard from Minnesota law enforcement about the need to discuss measures to improve gun safety while respecting the rights of law abiding Americans,” Klobuchar said. “I think the president’s recommendations, including strengthening background checks, addressing mental health and other efforts, are important as a way to improve public safety.”
Gun discussions have popped up time after time in Washington, and Peterson predicted the same results this time as in most previous efforts: Not much will change.