Dear Republicans: How much did my Aunt Shelley's life cost?

Rachael Joseph, testifying with a photo of her aunt, Shelley Joseph-Kordell, who was gunned down at the Hennepin County Government Center by a woman who legally bought a gun with no background check.

Rachael Joseph, testifying with a photo of her aunt, Shelley Joseph-Kordell, who was gunned down at the Hennepin County Government Center by a woman who legally bought a gun with no background check. Rachael Joseph

In the summer of 2003, a woman with a long history of harassment, stalking, and assault went to a Minnesota Gun Show and purchased a gun for $60 through a private sale with no background check required by Minnesota law.

She spent weeks at the range and learned how to shoot her new .38 revolver. Then she lured two people to the Hennepin County Government Center and shot them both.

This woman had frequently used the courts for harassment. Ramsey County banned her as a frivolous litigator. She filed another frivolous law suit in neighboring Hennepin County to lure my aunt, Shelley Joseph-Kordell, and her attorney, Rick Hendrickson, to the Hennepin County Government Center on September 29, 2003.

When Shelley and the security guard headed for the restroom, she approached Rick and shot him in the neck at point blank range. Despite the presence of a security guard and an armed deputy, the shooter then turned the corner toward the women’s restroom.

The security guard saw a woman approaching with a gun and took off. This woman entered the restroom, kicked the stall door open and shot my beloved aunt Shelley four times. Shelley later died at Hennepin County Medical Center. Rick Hendrickson survived with a paralyzed vocal cord.
I’ve been advocating to close the private sale/gun show loophole that resulted in Shelley’s death ever since.

My advocacy took on a new intensity when I became a mother in 2012 and again in 2015. Twenty children and six educators had just been slaughtered in the sanctity of an American elementary school. I knew if I wanted to keep my children alive, I needed to step up my efforts.

I’ve worked with various gun violence prevention organizations and have been successful at blocking attempts to further loosen our guns laws. But I've seen zero movement on bills that would close the private sale loophole, require safer storage of firearms, close the boyfriend loophole which enables those convicted of domestic violence to obtain firearms if they are not married to the person they're abusing, and prevent suicide by gun through gun violence protective orders, all of which have been halted due to the conservative makeup of the Minnesota legislature and the influence of gun lobby money.

The newspaper coverage of the daily shootings in low wealth communities, domestic violence murders, and communities of color have leapt off the printed page and devastated me. I know another family is experiencing the same nightmare that mine is.

After your loved one is shot to death, you are never the same. My family initially pulled together and then splintered—Shelley was the glue that held us together. I suffer from severe PTSD and anxiety. The nightmares are unrelenting. I drop my two small children off at school and cry in my car, convinced that’s the last time I’ll see them alive.

Sometimes I dream that Shelley is alive. She looks different in the dreams, like she survived the shooting. When I awake, my brain enters a PTSD-denial mode. I’m convinced that she’s alive. I feel relieved and so excited to go see her. The feeling is so profound and convincing that once I even drove to her old house and knocked on the door. A stranger answered, and I experienced the agony of her murder all over again.

This week we saw another school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Again, the nation wept. Well, nearly all the nation.

The extreme 3 percent of Americans who profit from firearm sales and deregulation used Parkland as an opportunity to profit. One of these extremist groups, the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, is run by Bryan Strawser, a recipient of the Public Policy Fellowship that Shelley’s mother, my grandmother, created at the Humphrey School with Vice President Walter Mondale.

Strawser’s group sent out the following email to their membership as a response to Parkland:

With this week's horrific tragedy in Florida, we're going to see a significant push for new gun control efforts in Minnesota and at the federal level in Washington, D.C. over the coming days.
Some anti-gun politicians here in Minnesota are already making proposals:

State Representatives Jack Considine (DFL), Raymond Dehn (DFL), and Dave Pinto (DFL) have already introduced a bill for next week's legislative session to ban "bump-stocks." Possession would become a felony. You would have until July 1st to turn in or destroy.

State Representative Erin Murphy (DFL), who is running for governor, has proposed a number of gun control efforts that she says she will introduce as legislation this session:

Ban the sale of AR-15s and other rifles.

Require a new permitting process for "assault weapons."

New magazine restrictions.

Extended waiting periods.

Universal background checks.

Requiring "built-in safety measures that limit accidents."

Kirsten Kennedy, who is running for Congress in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, says that "banning AR-15 military-style weapons is imperative."

We've seen a draft of a proposed "Assault Weapons Ban" bill that we expect to see in the Minnesota legislature any day now.

With the Minnesota Legislature coming back into session next week, here are some things that you can do today to help ensure that your voice is heard:

Call your state representative and let them know where you stand on gun rights issues. Make it clear that gun control isn't the answer to school shootings. You can use this link to find out who represents you at a state and federal level. Call your state senator with the same messaging.

Follow-up with both your representative and senator via e-mail to reinforce your message.
Call both United States senators and share the same message, even though they are both massive supporters of gun control:

Amy Klobuchar, 202-224-3244
Tina Flint Smith, 202-224-5641
Call your United States representative and share the same message.

Finally, if you're not already a member of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, now is the time to join us. We really need every supporter in this fight.

Would you be willing to make an additional donation to help us advance our agenda in the upcoming session?

I hope to see you at tomorrow's 2018 member meeting, legislative preview, and governor's candidate forum. If you're not already registered to attend, click here. It only takes a few minutes.

Yours in Liberty,
Bryan Strawser

So what do we do about this influence of extremist money in politics and its deadly toll on Minnesotans?

I’m currently working to elect the first gun violence survivor to the Minnesota legislature, Sara Freeman, in legislative district 61B. I encourage everyone who cares deeply about saving lives to be a single-issue voter in 2018. Talk to your candidates, find out where they stand. Support, donate, and volunteer for public servants with a proven track record on gun violence prevention as well as organizations like the Minnesota Alliance on Crime, which serves victim/survivors.

Donate to Representative Raymond Dehn. 

Donate to Erin Murphy for Governor.

Donate to Representative Erin Maye Quade (who is also introducing GVP legislation).

Donate to Representative Jack Constantine.

Donate to Representative Dave Pinto.

And donate to Sara Freeman for House 61B.

There is no one thing that will end all gun violence but, demanding more from our legislators, supporting the ones working to end gun violence, and running for office yourself is how we change the culture of our nation that shoots and kills its citizens at a rate 25 times higher than other developed nations.

Please join the effort before it’s your child, my child, your parent or sister or brother… or you.

Rachael Joseph is a parent, gun violence survivor, political organizer, and activist in Minneapolis.