There is a voice that has been largely missing from the debate over gun safety vs. gun rights: gun owners who support common-sense gun laws.
Matt Pierce wants to change that. A lifelong gun enthusiast, Pierce has handled weapons since boyhood. Whether hunting or target shooting, he also had safety drilled into his head by his father, a gun-range officer and avid handgun collector. Now Pierce, a geologist and local business owner, is leading efforts for Minnesota Gun Owners for Safety, his answer to the gun rights groups that have claimed to speak on behalf of gun owners.
“I have five guns,” Pierce said in a recent discussion with the Star Tribune Editorial Board. “I’ve been shooting since I was 11, when I got a shotgun for target shooting from my dad. I’ve been hunting for 20 years. I’ve also been involved in gun violence prevention since San Bernardino.” The 2015 massacre at a holiday office party in San Bernardino, Calif., took 14 lives and injured more.
Pierce said there are many more gun owners like him, who refuse to give credence to the scare tactics of the National Rifle Association and others who assert that any new laws or regulations are an assault on the Second Amendment and part of a government plot to seize guns. His group is part of a larger effort headed by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head at close range during a 2011 event and survived, though she suffered a serious brain injury.
Voices like Pierce’s need to be heard at the State Capitol, and right now. Two measures that have strong support from Gov. Tim Walz and House Democrats are struggling in this session: expanded background checks and red flag laws that allow authorities — with due process — to remove weapons from the home of someone shown to be a danger to himself or others. The House will vote on those measures as part of its public safety bill early next week, but they have no counterpart in the Republican Senate, where leadership remains staunchly opposed. House Speaker Melissa Hortman has said that nevertheless, both proposals “will be part of our final negotiations.”
It should be noted that, as with a few other conflicts that have surfaced at the Legislature, this is not entirely a partisan issue in other states. Indiana has constitutional language protecting gun rights, but nevertheless notes that “the right to keep and bear arms, like any other right, is subject to reasonable regulation. Lawmakers there adopted “Jake Laird’s Law,” after an officer was shot and killed by an unstable man with a gun. The law states that “a law enforcement officer may seize and keep firearms from a mentally unstable or dangerous individual.” Indiana saw a subsequent 7.5% drop in gun-related suicides.
GOP-controlled Florida, shattered by the high school shootings in Parkland that claimed 17 lives, passed comprehensive gun laws in 2018, including a red flag law. Fourteen states now have such a law. Eleven states now require universal background checks for gun sales.
Pierce and others say that public sentiment is turning, and that gun owners are ready to do their part to increase public safety and decrease gun deaths. Some have kept quiet, he said, not wanting to enter the political fray and invite repudiation from vocal groups.
“The gun owners I know take pride in being safe,” he said. “They want to make the range safe. They want to store guns safely. They want background checks, because that’s part of being safe. We all do things for the greater good. A few minutes to go to a gun store for a check? That’s a pretty small inconvenience.”
Minnesotans still have time to appeal to their lawmakers, to tell them in no uncertain terms that they support these two modest changes that so many states already have. But time is growing short.