Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) and Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL-Cottage Grove) introduced a new gun bill Thursday morning in a room packed full of cops, advocates from Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, and their cooing babies.
Standing in the back of the crowd were the tearful family members of murder victims who had been gunned down in recent memory: Rachael Joseph, whose aunt was killed in Hennepin County court, as well as Pastor Rolf Olsen, whose daughter was lured to her death by a killer who’d posted a babysitter ad on Craigslist.
The bill is simple and straightforward: background checks on all gun sales.
Currently, all licensed gun dealers in Minnesota have to conduct background checks, but private sellers don’t. They can sell guns from a booth at a gun show, via an ad posted on Armslist.com, or out of the back of a van in a McDonald’s parking lot — without having to check if the buyer is legally allowed to have firearms.
According to a Star Tribune poll, 82 percent of Minnesotans want to fix this private sale loophole. Nationally, about 74 percent of NRA members even agree.
As if to intercept the inevitable tide of fear-mongering from gun lobbyists, Latz introduced his proposal by rattling off a list of all the things that this bill wouldn’t do. It won’t create a registry of guns, which is illegal at the federal level. It won’t take away anybody’s guns, which are protected under the Constitution. It won’t restrict the kinds of guns that people can purchase.
Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell, a gun owner, spoke in support of universal background checks. He said his department processes hundreds of free permit-to-purchase applications from Maplewood residents every day. Most sail through without a hiccup, but every year background checks disqualify a small number of people who can’t have guns because of a felony conviction, a domestic violence protection order, or a mental health court order.
Not long ago, Schnell's officers were called about a drunk and suicidal man with a gun. His family, who feared he was a danger to them and others, asked police to confiscate his gun until he could complete his treatment. The very next day, the man asked cops for his gun back. There was little they could do, since the man hadn’t been court-ordered to commitment in a hospital.
Mike Goldstein of the Plymouth Police Department recalled the recent murder of 28-year-old Trisha Nelson, who was shot and killed by her fiancé in a busy Plymouth intersection. The fiancé, Corey Perry, shot a police officer in the ensuing standoff before taking his own life. He was not legally allowed to own a gun because he had been convicted of making terroristic threats in 2014.
“This tragedy is just one example of how this change in law might prevent a dangerous individual from purchasing a firearm,” Goldstein said. “Is it a cure-all? No, but it is a prudent attempt to fix the existing loopholes. I clearly understand the sensitivity that surrounds any conversation around firearms, just as I firmly support the Second Amendment for law-abiding individuals.”
“We have to do something because what we’re currently doing isn’t working,” he said.
At the same time that Latz and Schoen introduced their bill, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus launched the predictable shrieking in opposition.
“Senator Latz and Representative Schoen have unveiled a gun control bill that is being portrayed as a comprehensive gun safety measure. In fact, this bill is nothing more than a gun owner registration bill, requiring law-abiding citizens to submit government paperwork for any purchase or transfer of a firearm,” said executive director Bryan Strawser.
Legally, that paperwork is only available to cops investigating individual gun crimes, and only if they can locate the gun to begin with.
Schoen says that the bill isn’t guaranteed support from Republican leadership. Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center), chairman of the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee, is a noted skeptic of gun control proposals. At the same time, Cornish supported Latz and Schoen’s 2014 bill to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
“You can’t lose faith that there’s an opportunity for people to see the wisdom in doing the right thing,” Schoen says. “Rep. Cornish and I actually have a really good working relationship on many issues. He has what he puts out in public, and we all know where that’s at. We have to convince legislators that their citizens will send them back to the state Capitol and they won’t be targeted because of their vote, that the outside interests’ money shouldn’t be the issue.”