Minnesota issued more than 71,000 permits to carry a firearm in 2016, which was a new record. More than 265,000 of your neighbors are free to carry a gun as they go about their affairs. That’s 7 percent of the adult population in this slow-moving stockyard of ours who are feeling lucky when it comes to their chances of getting the drop on a wiseguy.
With only a small portion of new permit-holders living in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, most of the new Minnesotans packing heat live in rural and suburban locales. Welcome to the low-density counties of a state with low crime. Say hello to my little friend.
The head of a local gun-advocacy group described the rise in concealed-carry permits as the “continued normalization of getting a carry permit,” reflecting an apparent belief among gun proponents that more firearms in public places just makes life more normal. Following a sustained opposition campaign led by firearms critics including Protect Minnesota and Moms Demand Action, GOP lawmakers appear to have disagreed, having tabled for the time being a pair of so-called “permit-less carry” bills — legislation that would have removed the requirement to take part in screening, training and registering with the sheriff in order to walk around town with a Glock in your pants. The bills would have also asserted the right to carry in many types of public buildings that now post signs on their doors banning guns, buildings like schools. Meanwhile, I still can’t bring my own salad dressing into a diner.
A so-called Stand Your Ground bill still could be introduced late in the session through an amendment. It would remove the duty to retreat from a confrontation before firing, and it would allow the subjective determination of a gun owner who feels threatened — serious question: take away all the hunters and is there any other kind? — to be offered as legal defense following the shooting of someone large and unfamiliar on the front porch. It would give homeowners hope of legal cover to use lethal force in defense of property crimes that surpass $1,000 in value, allowing you the chance to become judge, jury and executioner of that intruder making off with your carbon fiber Diamondback.
Should Stand Your Ground make it into law, incursions on lawns, garages, cars and campers all become fair game for arguments asserting the right to lethal self-defense. It’s as if the authors of this nihilism were never once children in search of a baseball on the far side of the hedge.
With 300 million guns piling up in just 36 percent of American homes, and with local police in Janesville, Wis., having just dropped $130,000 over 10 days hunting down a man who stole a cache of assault rifles, silencers and other weapons from a dairy-town business called Armageddon Supplies — its back counter looks like the locker for weapons at the start of “Men in Black” — it seems fair to ask: Are we getting meaner?
Because research has demonstrated a so-called weapons effect, whereby the presence of guns changes us for the worse, all of it below the level of awareness.
Back in 1968, a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison learned that if you allowed a test subject to give electric shocks to a volunteer who had made him upset, the test subject lit up the guy on the other side of the glass with 20 percent more gusto if you set a gun on the nearby table instead of a badminton racket. The researchers described the presence of guns as aggressive cues, and noted their subjects would insist upon denying that weapons had made them meaner despite ample evidence to the contrary.
To researchers, this meant that the gun helps to pull the trigger. It could explain Stand Your Ground, disliked by responsible gun owners but proposed by lawmakers for reasons unknown — as well as the spike in new gun permits. Maybe all of our firearms have led us to seek out new ways to use them and new places to bring them.
If so, strap in, because millions of lives ruined and billions of dollars wasted thanks to the great unforced error in our time is coming to a home near you, maybe even yours.
Americans are already 25 times more likely to be victims of gun violence than citizens of other wealthy countries, and seven times more likely to be murdered. Homes with weapons are 22 times more likely to see them fired by accident or in acts of violence than in self-defense.
Our hospitals treat 100,000 gun injuries each year that less well-armed wealthy countries manage to do without. Our families bury 30,000 victims of gun suicides, homicides and accidents. Gun owners ask us to relieve them of responsibility for the harrowing, extravagant waste brought on by gun violence in our time. They assert this supremacy over the fact that American toddlers die of gunshots far more often than police officers do.
Barring the unlikely passage of bills before the Minnesota House that would mandate universal background checks (supported by 86 percent of Minnesotans, as of an April 2016 poll taken by Americans for Responsible Solutions), and the adoption of gun violence protective order legislation — a common-sense legal mechanism to temporarily remove guns from the homes of people in crisis — the best we can hope for is a culture that slowly begins to reject the very sight of guns, their presence in our homes, their champions’ arguments in our media. Maybe society could organically begin to turn away from the wreckage of our domestic arms race as we finally did from the plague of smoking.
Part of that will require the passage of time. Part of that will require the mundane work of public health campaigning. Part of it will require taking the industry to court. “We cut car crash deaths in half over 40 years because we treated them as public health problems, not political problems,” says the Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of Protect Minnesota. “We used the courts and technology and public service announcements.”
Part of that will require getting to know how guns actually strike our neighbors down, day in, day out. Even an abbreviated record of what guns actually did for Minnesotans over recent months tells of an agreement that can’t last.
Consider the events on the 2nd of last month at 2629 Golden Valley Rd., for example, the location of the latest shooting in Minnesota at the start of an utterly random survey of gunviolencearchive.org, a registry of deadly and non-deadly shootings across the U.S. reported in the news. It would quickly be eclipsed by a senseless mass shooting on April 7 near Lake Phalen, and on the very same day, by a report that a student at the University of St. Thomas had accidentally shot his hallmate in a dorm.
But the shootout that particular night in north Minneapolis took place as so many do, early on a Sunday, outside a bar. “They’re all real nice,” a neighbor said about the Hell’s Lovers Motorcycle Club. “They’re not real talkative, but they don’t cause any problems.”
One man shot another in the ankle, someone got stabbed, and someone shot a woman in the head.
It could have been worse. Witnesses heard as many as 60 shots fired, and yet somehow only two people were hit. But both victims were admitted to North Memorial Medical Center, where a Candice Hackett, the woman with the head wound, would die by Wednesday morning.
But wasn’t this just another Saturday in the big city? That very same night, a man was hospitalized at bar closing time after a shooting in the Warehouse District, and a 21-year-old was shot in the leg just before 3 in North St. Paul. Shouldn’t those people have been home and in bed? After all, nothing good happens after 2 a.m.
Except that Minnesotans were getting shot earlier that same week, and in the middle of the afternoon, and up in bucolic Itasca County. Just two days before the shootout on Golden Valley Road, an 8-year old was hospitalized at Essentia St. Mary’s in Duluth. He’d been shot in the head by his 29-year-old father, a gentle-looking young man who then took his own life at their home in Grand Rapids. The shooter had purchased his handgun the week before at a local store, a sale granted him despite what his family says was a history of depression dating to his adolescence.
Suicides make up three-fourths of all gun deaths nationally — 20,000 a year — and they make up an even higher percentage of our 300 annual gun deaths in Minnesota. But suicides are handled quietly, and while that may be meant to protect families from pain, it obscures the true impact of the near-ubiquitous use of firearms in the deaths of distraught men who die by their own hands.
The recent record shows that on March 19, a border patrol agent took his life with a gun while parked in a car near Grand Portage; that on March 20, an 80-year-old is believed to have shot himself on his front porch after firing at police and the mailman in Warren, and that on the April 3, a day after the shootout at Hell’s Lovers Motorcycle Club, a 56-year-old set fire to his home in Big Lake before shooting himself beneath a tree.
Bystanders heard ammunition popping as flames tore through steel cases where he had stored a stockpile of guns and bullets.
But that’s not going to affect you, right? If you’re not suicidal, or in the custody of a parent who is suicidal, and if you’re not out past 2 in the morning, hanging out at a motorcycle club, in a rough part of town, then surely the current normalization efforts concerning the place of guns in Minnesota should cause you no direct harm. Yes?
Actually, no. On the morning of the very same day an 8-year-old was shot by his father in Grand Rapids, a driver just trying to make it into work on Interstate 694 in White Bear Lake had her window shot out by the owner of a white Escalade. She had slowed to let someone cut in front of her; the Escalade driver behind her had disliked the decision and pulled up to tailgate. She decided to flip him off. Boom.
“I got a dumbass who wants to shoot me on the road,” the victim would later seethe to a reporter. “That could have been my kid, my girl. That’s weak.”
No one was killed in the drive-time road rage, so move it on off the news, because we’ve got other shootings to tell you about. Only there still is a window to replace, and wages lost for a day, and a patrol officer’s time. You can also ask if the victim might end up with a bout of PTSD, perhaps the need for a course of talk therapy, or find herself offered anti-anxiety medications and all the problems that can ensue. So will dozens of other commuters just trying to make their way in our gun-normalizing state in the coming months.
According to the State Patrol, Minnesotans were terrorized by drivers pulling a gun on them 154 times in 2016, and we are on pace to hitting that same mark in 2017.
Then again, she flipped him off.
So, what if you don’t flip someone off? What if your parent is not in the grip of suicidal despair, and if you don’t hang out at a motorcycle club, in the middle of the night, in a rough part of town? You see where this is going. We don’t have to get into all the other shootings over the last month or so — the woman who died in Clarissa after an accidental discharge from her boyfriend’s shotgun; the man who died in Lindstrom after an argument over a boat launch; the man killed in Minnetonka while changing a tire in a parking lot; the man hospitalized in Waite Park after being shot in the chest; the man who shot himself outside the Dog Pound Bar in Owatonna, or the man who shot himself in the hip in the small town of Frazee. That’s just life.
But that young mother in Clarissa, that one we might want to think about just for a moment.
See, her boyfriend had come home late, and heard the dogs barking, and grabbed his shotgun to see if there were coyotes.
He was standing his ground.
Paul John Scott is a writer in Rochester.