Despite the opposition of two major law enforcement groups and others, a Republican- controlled state House committee this week voted to repeal a state background check for gun purchases.
The vote comes less than three weeks after a gunman shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, using a semi-automatic handgun with an extra large clip. Despite his apparent mental health problems and drug use which kept him out of the army, he was able to purchase the gun legally in Arizona.
Isn’t there such a thing as a decent interval before gun proponents push to remove what few restrictions we now have on gun purchases? Shouldn’t we at least be thinking of ways to make it harder to buy certain weapons and magazines? And shouldn’t we be thinking of tougher screening of certain gun purchasers like the man alleged to have shot Rep. Giffords and killed six others?
The Republicans on the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee want to do away with Minnesota’s gun control law because they contend it simply duplicates a similar federal law. But they provided no cost saving figures or examples of how the law is a waste of resources.
At the same time, police from two different law enforcement organizations testified that Minnesota’s law is more complete and restrictive than federal law. And Minnesota’s data base includes more information such as whether someone is convicted of gross misdemeanors such as stalking or crimes committed for a gang as well as defendants charged with violent crimes, but placed in diversion programs.
The state law is a “due diligence” safeguard that allows police to “make sure that when we issue a permit to purchase we’ve done everything we could …to ensure the person is eligible,” said Dave Pecchia, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, according to the StarTribune account.
So here you have two major law enforcement organizations, the people we pay to protect us, arguing that the law we have now is a safety net, a backstop for a federal law that isn’t always effective. Yet Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R.-Mazeppa, the author of the bill to eliminate Minnesota’s background check, and the committee chair, Rep. Tony Cornish, R.-Good Thunder, himself a police chief, disagree. Interestingly, Cornish carried a briefcase with a sticker on it that said, “Use Your Vote to Keep Your Gun.”
Why do gun control discussions always have to be either or arguments. We’re way past the point where people who want more effective gun laws are arguing to ban weapons. Few gun control advocates want to take hunting rifles away from sportsmen or even handguns away from law abiding citizens. But there certainly is room to talk about better screening of those who purchase handguns or semi-automatic weapons.
No one can say whether a tougher law in Arizona or a more complete federal data base would have prevented Rep. Giffords from being shot by a man who apparently has serious mental health and drug abuse problems. But the answer is certainly not to do less, to remove what few restrictions we have.
Jared Loughner, the accused shooter, was rejected by the army for drug abuse but the information was never part of the federal data base used to screen gun purchase applicants. That fact brought this comment from John Feinblatt, chief policy adviser and criminal-justice coordinator for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to the Arizona Republic:
"In this terrible tragedy, we've got a man that the Army said 'No, thank you' to because they deemed him a habitual drug user. We don't connect the dots. . . . If he is not fit to serve in the armed forces, he shouldn't be fit to possess a gun."
If Minnesota’s law makes it even a little more difficult for certain people to purchase guns, as our police tell us, then doesn’t it make sense to keep those restrictions rather than discard them? What kind of a message are we sending, so soon after this national tragedy, to talk about removing restrictions? Hopefully, the full House and the Senate, if the bill gets there, or Gov. Dayton, will work to keep Minnesota’s law.