May 16, 2019 Media

Republicans Will Not Act on Gun Safety

By DFL Chairman Ken Martin

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the tragic shootings at Columbine High School, where thirteen students and faculty lost their lives. Of course, as is commonplace now, talk of changing our gun laws runs rampant immediately after shootings and then quickly fade as politicians move on to other issues.

612,310. That’s how many people lost their lives to gun violence from 1999, the year of the shootings at Columbine, to 2017, the last year the Centers for Disease Control have data on. Behind every single one of those 612,310 Americans lost is a story of immense tragedy.  Students are not coming home from school, families are shattered by suicide, neighborhoods across our nation are riven by violence. Unfortunately, year after year the number of gun deaths continues to grow.

When other nations, like Australia and New Zealand, suffered incidents of mass violence, they took decisive action to prevent future shootings. We have not. The plain truth is we are failing the people of our state and our country by not dealing with our current epidemic of gun violence. That has to change, and DFLers are working to make that happen.

DFLers in the Minnesota House of Representatives recently passed two common-sense safety measures that would do much to prevent gun deaths: expanded background checks and red flag laws.

Background Checks

Oftentimes in politics, issues can be complicated and full of nuance. That’s not the case with universal background checks. It just makes sense to require a basic security check to own a firearm that has the power to end lives with frightening ease. In fact, it makes so much sense that 97% of gun owners approve of universal background checks. To support these checks is simply to acknowledge that people with violent, criminal histories should not have access to guns.

Red Flag Laws

Frequently after a mass shooting, the American public is left wondering how and why it wasn’t prevented. Friends, family, and neighbors will recount warning signs that clearly point to an individual who posed a danger to their community. The family of the Parkland and Santa Barbara shooters both contacted law enforcement after seeing such warning signs, but law enforcement was unable to act. This should never happen in Minnesota.

The red flag law passed by the DFL House of Representatives would allow law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from a household if a court finds an individual to be a danger to themselves or others. This is a reasonable and sensible solution that improves safety while respecting the rights of gun owners. The fact that the temporary confiscation of firearms would have to be approved by a court will prevent this law from being used arbitrarily or unfairly.

Passing a red flag law will protect Minnesotans from violence at the hands of others, but it will also go a long way towards reducing the number of gun suicides, which has increased alarmingly in recent years. Numerous studies have found that an individual’s risk of ending their own life is dramatically reduced by the absence of firearms. In fact, states that have passed red flag laws have seen significant reductions in gun-related suicides.

The Plain Truth

While expanded background checks and red flag laws have been passed by the DFL House of Representatives, they face an uphill climb in the Republican State Senate. When Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka was asked about these proposals, his response was that “the bills are dead.” Gazelka’s reply is not only morbidly tone-deaf in its phrasing, but it also reveals a frustrating political reality: Republicans will not hear, much less pass the common-sense gun safety reforms needed to keep Minnesotans safe.

This is not an issue where both sides are partially to blame. DFLers are offering real solutions to the epidemic of gun violence that our nation is dealing with. Republicans are offering empty platitudes and obstruction. Their thoughts and prayers are not working.

My fellow Minnesotans, there’s a time for nuance in our politics, but that time is not now. The truth is that we need to vote Republicans out of office if we want to see a serious reduction in gun violence.

After this op-ed was written, Senate Republicans stopped two gun-safety measures from moving forward. Read more on that here: https://blogs.mprnews.org/capitol-view/2019/05/daily-digest-gun-bills-fail-on-tie-votes/