This week, it will be 13 years since my aunt Shelley was shot and killed at the Hennepin County Government Center. The woman who killed Shelley said she bought the gun at a Minnesota gun show for $60, with no questions asked. After the shooting, I was shocked to learn that in Minnesota, only federally licensed dealers are required to run background checks. At gun shows, unlicensed sellers can legally sell guns without running background checks on the buyers.
I could not believe that Minnesota — a state with such a proud history of responsible gun ownership — would leave such gaping holes in our gun laws.
And that is why, ever since my aunt’s murder, I’ve dedicated my efforts to strengthening our state’s gun laws to prevent other families from suffering the unending pain of having a loved one ripped from their lives by gun violence.
This is not an unsolvable problem. Ultimately, we must demand that our lawmakers take action to reduce gun violence. Elected leaders have to stand up to the extremist gun lobby and its agenda of guns everywhere, for anyone, with no questions asked.
We know the single most effective way to keep guns out of dangerous hands is by requiring a background check on every gun sale. In states that go beyond federal law and require background checks on all handgun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot and killed by intimate partners, there are 48 percent fewer gun suicides and 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are killed with handguns. And here in Minnesota, according to a poll in the Star Tribune, an overwhelming majority of voters support background checks on all gun sales.
With Election Day around the corner, the time is now to find out where your elected officials stand on these lifesaving issues. Gun safety must be a litmus test for political leaders if they want support from the majority of Americans — and Minnesotans — who believe we can do more to reduce gun violence. Here in Minnesota, the stakes are particularly high this election. We have an opportunity to elect a Legislature that cares about preventing gun violence and that will pass background checks on all gun sales in our state.
This simple measure, requiring a background check for every gun sale, would keep Minnesotans safe while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
I have worked with gun owners, domestic violence prevention advocates, veterans, law enforcement officers and other gun violence survivors like me to make sure the message is loud and clear: 2016 will be the year of gun safety.
Although I will never see my amazing, funny and loving aunt Shelley again, I know that if she were alive today, she would be in this fight with me. To honor her memory, and the memories of all of those taken too soon by senseless gun violence, I urge all Minnesotans to find out where their candidates stand on background checks, sign up to be a gun sense voter and speak out about this critical issue.
It is time our lawmakers recognize that guns are no longer the third rail in politics. Candidates can run on gun safety and win. Voters are tired of seeing the headlines of the daily toll of gun violence, and we know there is more we can do to see our communities safe.
This November, Minnesota will know the power of the gun sense voter!
Rachael Joseph lives in Minneapolis.