On Thursday, a former Minnesota Senate staffer got a phone call at work. The woman on the line was from the National Rifle Association.
What, the caller asked, would be the best way to stop “someone with a mental illness” from perpetrating a shooting like the one in Parkland, Florida, the day before?
The ex-staffer’s answer was unequivocal. We should ban AR-15 rifles, like the one Nickolas Cruz used to kill 14 teenagers and three adults.
The woman pivoted clumsily. What would really keep people safe is the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, she said. It would let any resident permitted to carry a gun in one state legally carry in any other.
The bill is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate. Would the man like to donate to the NRA to get it passed?
No, he would not. Not even with the offer of a free duffel bag signed by Wayne LaPierre.
This story was relayed by Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), who saw the NRA’s fundraising as “opportunistic and amoral.” He left out “victorious.”
How else should you describe an outfit that steamrolls over the unburied bodies of teens and teachers to lobby for easier access to guns? The NRA sets the American agenda, almost always gets its way, and sees no need to pause, not even for a moment of silence.
Yet the group’s slightly more vulnerable yes-men wisely took the week off. They include Congressman Jason Lewis (R-Woodbury), who represents a suburban district that stretches southeast of the Twin Cities. Lewis declined to comment for this story, saying only that the Parkland shooting was an “absolute tragedy.”
Back in December, he was whistling right along with the NRA’s tune. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would guarantee the “right to be safe,” even when crossing state lines, Lewis said. “You shouldn’t have to turn around every time you reach the bridge to Wisconsin.”
He conveniently has it backward. Minnesotans with a permit to carry can walk right into Wisconsin; it’s Wisconsinites whose permits aren’t honored here. Minnesota doesn’t recognize concealed carry permits from 21 states with lax gun laws, nor from a dozen more, like Missouri and Mississippi, where no permit is even required.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman oppose the reciprocity bill. Freeman says Minnesota has a “pretty good” permit-to-carry law, requiring registration and safety training. It also prohibits violent criminals, the “mentally ill and dangerous,” stalkers, and “nonresident aliens” from getting one.
Freeman’s “disappointed,” after more than two decades in public safety, to see how the conversation has shifted. A generation ago, it was possible to ban certain weapons with no other purpose than mass murder. Now advocates are reduced to fighting efforts to put more guns on the street, and fighting the notion that this makes anyone safer—including civilians interacting with police.
“It is fair to say law-abiding people, including police officers, are much more concerned about their safety today because of the proliferation of guns,” he says. “Anyone who suggests we’re safer if more people carry guns is nuts.”
The statistics back him up, of course, but the gun debate stopped turning on facts long ago. Though it takes only two years for U.S. gun deaths to surpass the entire American death toll of Vietnam, the subject remains our second worst-funded research topic when it comes to fatalities—behind only falls, which is just as well, because most modern conservatives seem more open to overturning the law of gravity.
The day after the Florida shooting, Erin Murphy, a DFL state rep running for governor, said she was “proud” to have an ‘F’ rating from the NRA. Murphy plans to bring a series of gun control bills this legislative session: banning AR-15 rifle sales, enhancing background checks, empowering local law enforcement to intervene when a gun owner or prospective buyer is deemed a threat to the public.
None has any chance of passing. Not with Republicans in control of the legislature. Murphy and others will likely spend the session playing defense, trying to block increased rights for gun owners, like permit-less carry and the power to murder an unarmed burglar, provided you do so in “good faith.”
Says Murphy: “I expect we will take some sort of vote on an issue that deals with expanding gun owners’ rights, as we do in most election cycles. It is the nature of the body.”
In Washington, expect Congress to wait a respectful period of time before revisiting another expansion of gun rights. But not too long. They don’t want to be caught passing one when the next mass shooting happens. Or the one after that. Or the many, many more to follow.
In the meantime, Jason Lewis will be left to “make sense” of the “tragedy,” as he did last week. Or he will be offering “thoughts and prayers,” as he did after a gunman killed 58 people and wounded 500 in Las Vegas last year.
On Friday, he’ll be hosting a joint talk with John Lott, author of such books as More Guns, Less Crime, and The War on Guns: Arming Yourself Against Gun Control Lies. Proceeds from the $50 tickets to see Lewis and Lott at the Lakeville Art Center go to the local Republican Party.
The talk is to be called “How Gun Control Hurts the Most Vulnerable.” If only those Florida teens could’ve lived to see it.
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