Minnesotans have made clear over and over their preference for stronger gun laws. When will state Senate Republicans get that message?
To tackle gun violence, they instead have proposed this year tweaks to existing laws that increase some penalties, upgrade charges and change the definition of what constitutes a drive-by shooting. They also appear to want to micromanage the public safety efforts for the state’s two largest cities, by tying local government aid to a requirement to increase police hires in both cities over the objections of local leaders.
Glaringly absent from those proposals are two measures Minnesotans have said they want and that data support as effective: universal background checks for gun purchases and red-flag laws that temporarily get guns out of the hands out of those deemed a danger to themselves or others.
A Star Tribune/MPR Minnesota Poll late last year showed that 84% of Minnesotans support universal background checks for gun purchases. That is in a state where fully half the households have firearms and where nearly half include someone who had fired a weapon in the previous year. Three out of four Republicans who were polled support such checks.
A dozen states have universal background checks. Seventeen states now have some version of red-flag laws, also known as extreme-risk protection orders, including Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana. Citizens in those states continue to own and use guns, their Second Amendment Rights intact.
Gun safety should not be a partisan issue. Red-flag laws are not, as Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, purported in a recent hearing, a “broad and sweeping new power” for law enforcement. Often, red-flag laws are employed to protect someone who is a suicide risk. Connecticut saw a 14% drop in its firearm suicide after its extreme-risk laws took effect.
If Republicans want to tighten laws and increase penalties for gun violence, those proposals should get thorough consideration, assuming there is the funding that goes along with increased enforcement. They should extend the same courtesy to DFL senators carrying bills to address measures known to have strong popular support.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board also favors adequate police resources to ensure public safety in fast-growing Minneapolis and St. Paul, but local officials and law enforcement leaders should be making those decisions.
Minnesota doesn’t need proposals that appear to be designed more to score political points than address genuine needs. Fruitless attempts to force Minneapolis and St. Paul to use their local government aid to hire more officers — no matter what other strategies they may be considering — serves no purpose other than to further divide.