By Danielle Killey
Something can be done about gun violence in Minnesota.
Gun rights and gun control advocates generally agree on that point, but they don’t necessarily agree on what comes next.
“To do nothing … is to give up,” Mary Streufert of Duluth said.
Her daughter, Carin, was shot and killed 21 years ago, and she said if a law change can save any lives “it will make a big difference.”
Lawmakers at the state Capitol have discussed various proposals on firearms this month, including tightening restrictions on who can purchase them, banning certain types of weapons and ammunition and expanding background checks.
“I think everyone at this table would like to see gun violence reduced,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said.
He said while there are different routes, he believes lawmakers are acting “in good faith” toward the goal.
Some opposed to tightening regulations said that improving the current background check system, addressing mental health concerns and enforcing existing gun laws could be a more effective start.
“No law will end gun violence but we can attempt to address the underlying shortfalls we have in our society.” Sen. Scott Newman, R- Hutchinson, said. “The issue is not gun control but rather our lack of properly dealing with mental illness in this country.”
He said the state should give school employees, social workers and law enforcement “the tools and ability to better communicate with each other once they suspect potential trouble.”
Kevin Vick, owner of Crucible Arms in Lakeville, said there are gaps in the current background check system and said those should be addressed before adding additional regulations.
Others said that is not enough.
Streufert said she and her husband spoke with the men who killed her daughter and said the guns they had played a role.
“I have come to believe that a lot of crime happens because it’s a power issue,” she said. “The guns gave these two particular men a feeling of power they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Greg Dahlstrom of Lakeville, a gun rights advocate, said one bill he would support was a proposal to create a voluntary system where people dealing with issues such as mental illness could surrender weapons and be put on a list of those ineligible to receive gun permits.
“This is one bill that would have impacted the Sandy Hook shooter,” he said, referencing the December shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut that killed 26 people.
Lawmakers have not voted on gun bills, and the provisions face challenges.
Some rural Democrats have said they cannot support gun control legislation. The format of the bills could be an issue as well.
Both Latz and House Public Safety Committee chairman Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, each plan to put gun-related proposals into an overall bill for a vote. Some lawmakers have said that means pieces of legislation that might have passed on their own could suffer.
“I think that we probably could build very widespread support for some of these bills,” Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said. “But when you start adding in more and more it’s going to get more complicated, more divisive, more polarizing and it will create an awful lot of conflict that we don’t need to have.”
Paymar has said he plans to hold a vote later this month, and Latz said he plans to craft his overall bill soon.
A bill by state Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, would make it easier for law enforcement to deny firearms permits based on the likelihood of the applicant being a danger to themselves or the public. Those denied could appeal the decision to a court.
It was a proposal that ruffled gun rights advocates.
“I don’t think these changes are needed,” Ortman said during a Friday Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on gun-related bills.
While she said she understands law enforcement officials would want a little more power when reviewing applications, “I also understand why that’s a mistake.”
“You would allow them basically to deny someone’s rights without due process,” she added. “I don’t think we want our chiefs and sheriffs to have that kind of discretion.”
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said regulating access to guns will not necessarily cut down on violence.
“The individual is the one that makes the decision to exact some evil intent on another and the inanimate object is nothing more than a tool,” he said.
A proposal from Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, would make it harder for those convicted of violent felonies to have their gun rights restored. The bill would require proof that the person is not likely to be dangerous and a 10-year waiting period after the end of a sentence before the request can be brought forward.
Another bill from Cohen would increase mental health screening needed before obtaining firearms permits. Some worry strict mental health regulations on weapons access could prevent some people from seeking treatment.
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, presented a bill that would create a system where people who might be struggling with mental illness or other issues can surrender their firearms and be on a list to be prohibited from buying guns for a pre-set period of time.
“During that phase in a mental health situation a person still has insight and still is able to see an increasing degree of agitation … or impulse control,” Sheran said. “These are crisis times.”
Anna McLafferty of National Alliance on Mental Illness said this could be a good option for family members and therapists to suggest to those struggling with mental health issues.
“We think there are many people who would voluntarily put their names on this list,” she said. “It’s just a clear answer to the problem.”
Concerns were raised about police or sheriff departments storing and caring for surrendered weapons, which Latz said is being discussed.
Talk about a bill that would require background checks on all gun sales, including private ones, seeped into Friday’s meeting. Opponents worry the records kept from background checks would indirectly create a gun registration.
The president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, Joseph Olson, said registration is “disguised” in the background check proposal.
“You can’t have a background check system that is not tied to a registration system,” the Hamline University law professor argued.
Despite disagreements, Latz, from St. Louis Park, said he believes everyone who spoke shared a common aim.
“We all share a goal of reducing violence, particularly gun violence, in our communities,” he said. He thanked the public and committee members for the hours of public testimony and discussion over three hearings.