A gun violence survivor’s plea to Minnesota Senator Roger Chamberlain

Shelley Joseph-Kordell was shot to death in the Hennepin County Government Center in 2003. But Chamberlain dismisses her death because it happened "a long time ago."

Shelley Joseph-Kordell was shot to death in the Hennepin County Government Center in 2003. But Chamberlain dismisses her death because it happened "a long time ago."

On September 29, 2003, a woman with a long history of mental illness lured my aunt, Shelley Joseph-Kordell, and her lawyer to the Hennepin County Government Center through a frivolous legal action and shot them both.

Shelley’s lawyer, Rick Hendrickson, was shot once in the neck and survived. Shelley didn’t survive four gunshots and my family lost its center and its heart that day.

During her criminal trial, I learned that the woman who killed Shelley bought the gun at a Minnesota gun show for $60, no background check, no questions asked.

In Minnesota, only federally licensed firearm dealers are required to run background checks. At gun shows and online, unlicensed sellers can legally sell guns without running background checks on the buyers. It was shocking to learn that a state with such a long history of responsible gun ownership would leave such a huge loophole in our gun laws.

For that reason, I work for Protect Minnesota, a state-based gun violence prevention nonprofit, in the hopes of strengthening Minnesota’s gun laws to prevent other families from experiencing the horrible pain of having a loved one ripped from their lives by gun violence. With gun violence, there is no closure or goodbye and the pain is unending.

On January 5 of this year, I tuned in to watch the PBS program “Your Legislators.” One of the guests, Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes), boldly stated that there are “no loopholes in Minnesota gun laws.”

To his thinking, the private sale loophole that resulted in my aunt Shelley’s murder didn’t exist. I decided I needed to speak with the senator and tell him about Shelley — what an amazing person she was and how much she meant to my family.

I emailed, tweeted, and called his office several times and was unable to get a meeting. The senator had no interest in meeting with me. He’d ripped my heart out with misinformation and couldn’t give me a two-minute meeting.

Six weeks later, Protect Minnesota held our Broken Hearts Lobby Day at the Minnesota State Capitol. I facilitated several meetings between constituents and legislators to discuss support of background checks on all gun sales and concerns about several dangerous gun bills being pushed by the gun lobby this legislative session.

These include permitless carry, lifetime carry permits, and stand your ground. I accompanied several of Chamberlain’s constituents to their legislative meeting.

One of Chamberlain’s constituents expressed grave concern about the proposed Stand Your Ground Law. She had two biracial grandchildren and was scared for their safety.

Stand Your Ground laws have affected people of color disproportionately and increased gun deaths in the states that have the law.

Senator Chamberlain raised his voice at the grandmother sitting across the table and accused her of being racist. I responded that she was simply sharing her personal story and providing facts. The senator then insisted there is “no racism in Minnesota.”

We know that is a false claim and Minnesota continues to have frequent incidents of racism and one of the highest achievement gaps in the entire country.

I was not feeling optimistic, but I showed Chamberlain a photo of my aunt Shelley and shared her story. I asked for his support for closing the private sale loophole and gun violence protective orders so that if someone is a danger to themselves or others, the family can petition a judge to remove the firearms from the home until that person is no longer a danger. Either law might have saved my aunt’s life.

Senator Chamberlain stated that what had happened to my aunt was “a long time ago” and continued to assert that there are no loopholes and Minnesota gun laws are fine as they are.

Things are not fine for my family or the more than 33,000 Americans killed by guns every single year. 

We know that the most effective way to keep guns away from dangerous people is to require a criminal background check on every gun sale. In the states that do require background checks on every sale, 46 percent fewer women are shot and killed by intimate partners, there are 48 percent fewer gun suicides, and 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are killed with handguns.

Minnesotans support closing the private sale loophole. Recent poling in the Star Tribune showed an overwhelming majority of residents and gun owners support background checks on all gun sales.

Senator Chamberlain gets an A rating from the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus — a group that does not represent the views of the majority of responsible hunters and sportsmen in Minnesota, but the views of the extremist gun lobby.

It is my hope that Chamberlain changes his mind and decides to support what the majority of his constituents and fellow gun owners want — criminal background checks on every Minnesota gun sale.