Thanks for shedding light on the northern lights (“Caught in the lights,” Outdoors Weekend, Nov. 20). I have spent many warm and shivering cold nights being amazed and sharing the fun with friends (after apologizing for waking them up).

However, I must take exception to one recommendation that virtually all astronomy-related articles are guilty of — the dreaded “drive an hour out of town.”

While I agree that a dark sky location is ideal to see northern lights and other sky events, it is by no means necessary. Where is the best place to see the northern lights? The sky! What’s the best way to see them? Look up!

Or, more specifically, go to the place closest to you with a clear view to the north; for me, that’s Thomas Beach at the south end of Lake Calhoun. I have a photo of the northern lights sitting right over the Minneapolis skyline. I have seen them from a taxi leaving Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, from a south Minneapolis driveway and under a streetlight in a parking lot on Lake Minnetonka’s Grays Bay (and recorded them on my iPhone camera). Again — just look up! (And the Facebook group Great Lakes Aurora Hunters is great, because if folks nearby are saying “they’re on, bright and right overhead” vs. “dim and just discernible on the horizon,” you know you’ve got a great shot at seeing them.

I’m thinking of how many would-be enthusiasts have read an article like this with excitement, only to be put off by the recommendation to drive an hour away. And it happens with comets, planetary alignments, meteor showers — all “backyard” events. This is my cry to astronomy reporters everywhere — particularly for northern lights: start by recommending that folks go somewhere nearby that has a view of the northern horizon. In the Twin Cities metro area, with so many lakes and parklands, that’s not far from millions of would-be Great Lakes Aurora Hunters astronomers!

Mark Werley, Minnetonka

EDITORIAL COUNTERPOINT

Call to target repeat gun offenders missed the mark

Your editorial urging the criminal justice system to target repeat gun offenders (“Enforce gun laws already on the books,” Nov. 23) improperly uses data to mislead the public into thinking that repeat gun offenders aren’t being sent to prison. They are.

The editorial advocates for lengthy prison terms to keep repeat gun offenders behind bars. It then goes on to claim that data from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission supports the conclusion that the minimum sentence in gun cases is “often not imposed.”

When a person charged with a gun offense has a prior gun offense, the judge must impose the mandatory minimum. The judge has no authority to deviate from the mandatory sentence. Hennepin County judges do send repeat gun offenders to prison for the mandatory minimum prison sentence.

The data you cite include cases of people charged with gun possession (actual use of the gun is not required) who are not allowed to have a gun because they have been convicted or adjudicated (if they are juveniles) of a prior “violent” offense. The statute defines “violent offense” as any felony-level drug offense, including possession. Of the 35 felon in possession cases closed in Hennepin County in 2015, the prior felony in 15 of those cases was a felony drug crime.

And, although a judge may deviate from the mandatory prison sentence in gun possession cases with no prior gun conviction, Hennepin County judges sent a majority of the clients in those 35 cases to prison for the mandatory minimum.

Mary F. Moriarty, Minneapolis

The writer is the chief Hennepin County public defender.

• • •

The editors’ call for harsh gun sentences misses the mark. Criminologists have found no evidence that mandatory minimum prison sentences deter or reduce gun crime. The fact that Minnesota law allows courts not to give every felon who possesses a gun the five-year mandatory minimum prison term is the law’s greatest strength, not a weakness.

While studying at the University of Minnesota Law School, I assisted the Hennepin County attorney’s office with the prosecution of many felons who possessed guns. Some felons — armed robbers, for example — deserved and received the minimum five-year term. Others — those whose only felony was possessing drugs or hunters with very old felony convictions — neither deserved nor needed five years in prison.

Judges wisely used the law’s flexibility to give less prison time to less dangerous gun possessors, saving taxpayer money and prison cells for the real threats.

Flexibility for judges is the only thing preventing Minnesota’s mandatory minimum gun possession laws from producing unjust results and wasting taxpayer dollars.

Molly Gill, Washington, D.C.

The writer is an attorney for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

 

‘BLACK FRIDAY’

Recheck your account: You didn’t ‘save’ $200 on that TV

A lot of people this Black Friday will be running around talking about how much money they “saved.” They are sadly mistaken. They didn’t “save” anything at all. In fact, their bank accounts will be much less than they were prior to this “saving” that they’re talking about.

“Can you believe it? I bought this TV and I saved $200!”

Really? Your bank account is actually up $200? Wait, it’s not? It’s actually down $600? Weird.

Do you see what’s going on here? It’s one of the greatest fast ones ever pulled in the history of mankind. Not much is written about this because we live in a culture obsessed with consumption. Retailers very much need to keep the wool over your eyes concerning the use of this word. They need you to actually feel like you saved money when something is on sale. We all have savings (at least I hope you do). It’s something we feel proud of. It gives us a sense of security.

What better way to make you feel good about draining your bank account than to somehow equate that action with actually saving money. It’s incredibly effective. You’re drawn to it subconsciously, because you are attaching the event to the real meaning of “savings.” If you saved $200, you have $200 in the bank. Feels great. If you saved $200 on a TV you, well, bought something for less money, that’s all. I mean, good for you, but you didn’t save $200. You just didn’t. Truly understanding this financial sleight of hand will completely change the way you view sales, money, commercials, etc.

Check your bank account when you get home on Black Friday. I’ll bet my entire savings that you didn’t actually save anything that day.

Clint Carlson, Minneapolis