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“I’m a perfect example of that,” said Mike Briggs, a firearms instructor and permit holder who lives in Ramsey. Briggs said he was pumping gas in February 2012 about 4 a.m. in north Minneapolis when he saw four people drive up in a car with the headlights off. Briggs said he made eye contact with the driver and that the two stared at each other for three minutes until the group slowly drove away. Briggs said he never pulled out his Wilson Combat .45 pistol.
“I think they were going to carjack me,” he said. Briggs said his gun gave him confidence to confront the group if need be. “My self-confidence, my eye contact, my body language. I was ready. And I think they figured that.”
To Steve Petersen, a federal firearms licensee and permit holder in Andover, it’s those types of incidents that prove the value of having a permit to carry.
“That gun is there to protect me,” Petersen said. “It does not obligate me legally or morally to intervene in a situation where I’ve got to draw my gun and protect someone else. I’ve got to believe 99 percent of permit holders. … would agree with that.”
‘More guns, less crime’?
Gun control advocates contrast the number of justifiable uses of firearms to the number of incidents where a gun has been used to intimidate or harm, intentionally or not.
“The small number of these defensive uses [contradicts] arguments that were made for putting more guns in people’s hands in public places, that was supposed to confer more safety, and it didn’t,” said Heather Martens, head of Protect Minnesota, which advocates for gun control. “I think that the whole premise of the more guns, less crime was false.”
Of the 124 gun-related crimes committed by permit holders in Minnesota since 2003, 19 were assaults, 10 were for carrying under the influence, six were for drug-related crimes and one was a homicide.
Gun rights advocates respond by saying the same statistics show generally they are far more law abiding than the general public. They also point to a drop in violent crime — a 23 percent decline since 2005 in Minnesota — and say that’s partly because of the increased number of people carrying firearms.
Law enforcement and criminologists say that’s highly unlikely.
“Violent crime has gone down across the country,” said Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows.
Bellows said he believes that justifiable-use incidents are so low because the majority of permit holders often leave their guns at home. He said the permit renewal rate in his county has dropped steadily since 2009 and sits at about 40 percent.
All applicants for a carry permit must take a class that teaches about justifiable uses of firearms. That’s probably another reason so few of them have actually used them, said James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association.
“We had hoped it would have worked this good,” Franklin said.
“I think it’s a success from the standpoint that [when the law was passed], it was first alluded to that perhaps a number of misapplications might occur, that people would be trigger-happy.”
Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626