U.S. Rep. Tim Walz writes in a recent commentary that it had been a “tough week.” (“Please understand my full record on guns,” Feb. 25.) Let me assure him that gun violence survivors have had it “tough” for far longer.
On Sept. 29, 2003, a woman with a long history of assault, threats and harassment lured two people to the Hennepin County Government Center through a frivolous legal action and shot them both. She had purchased a firearm at a Minnesota gun show, through a private sale, for $60 with no background check required by law. Attorney Rick Hendrickson was shot once in the neck at point-blank range and survived with a paralyzed vocal cord. This woman then followed her second victim to the women’s restroom, kicked the stall door open and shot her four times.
That victim was my aunt, Shelley Joseph-Kordell. The aunt who helped raise me spent her final moments wrestling first responders, with four bullets in her body, to try to find her friend and make sure he was OK. This tells you everything you need to know about the kind of person she was. She died later at the hospital, and my family hasn’t just had a tough week; we’ve survived a living hell ever since.
I’ve read Walz’s statements in that commentary and elsewhere in the Star Tribune. He claims to get it and to have evolved on the issue.
That may be so, but Americans have been experiencing tough weeks the entire time Walz has held national office. I hope he’s indeed moving on this issue, but the less-than-coincidental timing of this evolution makes him far from the most honest broker.
The facts, which Walz hopes you will ignore, are startling. He took National Rifle Association money after Virginia Tech. After Sandy Hook. After Aurora. After Pulse. After each and every gun death that doesn’t make the headlines, like domestic violence murders, gun deaths in communities of color and violence at the hands of law enforcement.
His evolution can be traced back to two events: His declaration for the office of Minnesota governor and the massacre in Las Vegas. Only following the Las Vegas tragedy did candidate Walz finally stop taking the NRA’s money. To demonstrate his “good faith,” he gave his most recent NRA donation to a veteran’s organization. It was a fine gesture. But, of course, 22 veterans kill themselves with a firearm every day, and they had been doing so long before Walz made this donation. Walz is a veteran; why did it take him so long to evolve on this issue? Simply conducting a background check on all gun sales reduces most gun violence, even gun suicide, by nearly 50 percent. The very type of background check that the NRA has always opposed.
Walz also fails to mention the thousands of dollars he has taken from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an organization just as dangerous as the NRA. It’s an organization that pushes lawmakers for the further deregulation of firearms law. Walz has not returned one cent of NSSF money.
In the Star Tribune, Walz also suggests building a diverse coalition of Minnesotans, as if that’s a new idea. Survivor- and community-led coalitions to curb violence have existed for decades. Activists like me and thousands of others have been doing this work in the trenches without Walz for a long time. Moreover, the American public has long been ahead of Walz on gun reform, with the most recent polls showing that Americans are 97 percent supportive of universal background checks and 67 percent supportive of an assault-weapons ban. The problem hasn’t been a lack of good faith and effort on the part of the public to institute change; the problem has been with lawmakers, like Walz, who for too long stood in opposition to such change. It’s no surprise that fewer than two years ago, Guns & Ammo magazine ranked Walz as one of the Top 20 gun-friendly politicians in the entire country.
A candidate’s voting record is the best reflection of who that person truly is, and Walz’s record is deplorable. While he oscillated between the NRA, NSSF and lifesaving legislation, survivors have paid for that legislative inaction with our own blood. If we want change to occur on this issue, Minnesota can do better.
Walz wishes to position himself as the reasonable and informed voice on gun reform in an election year when this issue has its broadest support ever. To paraphrase Parkland, Fla., student Emma Gonzales, I call BS.
Rachael Joseph is a campaign manager, political activist, gun violence survivor and advocacy director of Women Against the Violence Epidemic (WAVE) who lives with her educator husband and two children in Minneapolis.