Reporter's Notebook: The Smoke Clears

Categories: Law

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When I started working on this story, I interviewed several folks who were instrumental in the conceal carry argument back in 2003. Those interviews ended up being very helpful background, but because of limited space and the focus of the article, much from those interviews didn't end up getting used directly. Nonetheless, these folks said some interesting things about conceal carry, gun rights, and public safety in Minnesota.

Wes Skoglund, former state senator

Though Minnesota seems to have gotten tired of arguing over conceal carry, Wes Skoglund has lost none of his passion on the issue, and he still thinks the law is a terrible thing for Minnesota.

"I've spent my career trying to make Minnesota safer," he says. "I don't think there's anyone who drives down the freeway who thinks they're safer thinking the guy next to them has a pistol on the seat. I don't. If the legislature put the energy into kids that it does to guns, we'd have a much better state."

Skoglund, however, says he's specifically opposed to the MCPPA, not guns in general.

"I own guns and I used to hunt. I like to shoot," he says. "I've shot everything from 155mm howitzer down to a BB gun."

"They like to call you a gun grabber. I'm not against guns. I've hunted everything from ducks, deer, pigeons, pheasants. In my family it was a moral thing: you eat what you shoot."

Nonetheless, he says there's a dangerous difference between guns used for hunting and guns intended for self-defense.

"If you pass the driving test and you have insurance, you can drive a car," he says. "But this is a gun; it's not meant to get you to work, to the grocery store, to the doctor. This is a gun that's not used for target practice. I think some of these guys are like Matt Dillon and just want to be a gunslinger."

He blames politics as usual, not concern for public safety, for the bill's passage.

"The NRA is a powerful force and we couldn't stop it," he says. "I don't believe [the MCPPA] led to a safer society, though it did lead to a safer election for some politicians"

Nora Slawick, state representative

Nora Slawick says she opposed the MCPPA back in 2003 because of the concerns of the law enforcement community.

"Five years ago when the bill was being debated, local police chiefs and sheriffs consistently opposed it," she says. "I saw and respected their opinions. I don't really think anything in the last five years has changed that viewpoint. I think local law enforcement people are still on the front lines in their communities."

She says that though she's not as personally involved in public safety legislation anymore, her colleagues are working in the post-MCPPA context to minimize gun violence.

"It's not guns that kill people, it's people that kill people, and that's the worry: that guns get in the hands of the wrong people, whether it's criminals or little kids," she says. "I think there's a couple things that legislators are looking at: measures that close loopholes in the law that makes it too easy for guns to fall in the wrong hands, and just making sure that guns are as safe as possible, with gun locks and training. We really want to make it that we're putting public safety at the forefront."

Slawick acknowledges that the MCPPA hasn't been the public-safety disaster that some predicted, and that on the whole Minnesotans aren't too interested in resurrecting the conceal carry debate.

"The dire predictions made by opponents five years ago really haven't come true, so the public tends to move on," she says. "Most people aren't thinking about it on a daily basis. So you just hope that it's a good thing that the dire predictions haven't happened, and hopefully they still won't. It will only take a couple of cases for people to be reminded that this law is on the books."

Joe Olson, one of the bill architects

One of the central claims of MCPPA proponents was that Minnesotans would be safer under the law. That doesn't seem to be the case, or at least there's no clear way to demonstrate that it is. Joe Olson, one of the bill's architects, says that may be because Minnesota is such a safe state to begin with.

"It's difficult to affect the statistics here," he says. "Minnesota doesn't have enough permit holders or enough crime for any change to be rapidly visible. For example, our murder rate is one-third that of the United States, so if you reduce murders in Minnesota, you get a much smaller percentage. We have about 56,000 permit holders; when we have 100,000 permit holders there'll be a bigger impact."

Though permit holders haven't been perfectly well-behaved, he says they're still better behaved than most Minnesotans.

"The record of permit holders in Minnesota vis a vis committing criminal activities is exceedingly low," he says. You'd expect that. These are people who have to go through criminal history, substance dependency, mental health screen. The best predictor of future conduct is past conduct. Someone who's 35 years old with a clean record has a ninety-nine percent chance of having a clean record next year."

He also says that training courses like Joel Rosenberg's are highly effective.

"The training scares the crap out of people," he says. "All the instructors I know tell people that if you pull your gun out of your holster, that's five thousand dollars in legal fees. If you pull the trigger that's ten-to-twenty thousand dollars in legal fees. Don't do it unless there's no alternative. It's a special-purpose safety tool and nothing more."

Heather Martens, president of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota

The most compelling point that Heather Martens made during our interview is that money spent on the MCPPA could be spent on programs that would have a much larger impact on public safety. But she also pointed to other possible dangers of the MCPPA.

"When it becomes more common that people view having a loaded firearm as something that's a necessary part of going out, then the risk is increased instances of leaving of firearms around," she says. "It follows from the idea that firearms should be stored loaded and ready to fire."

She says her organization, Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, is trying to change that view.

"We're educating the public on how important it is, if you own a firearm, to store it locked with the ammunition stored separately," she says. "If you don't store them securely, theft is one common avenue for criminals to get guns; they take them in burglaries and from cars."

Interestingly, Martens says the recent Supreme Court decision regarding the D.C. gun ban has both hurt and helped the gun violence prevention cause.

"It did a good thing and a bad thing at the same time," she says. "We were concerned about the idea of saying that gun ownership is an individual right, because of the implications of that. But the court laid out a middle ground, saying it's an individual right, but not without limitations. Those limitations were all things we were trying to do."

She says now that the individual right to bear arms as been affirmed by the court, it's easier for her organization, portrayed by some as gun-grabbing, to work on other ways to prevent gun violence.

"The fear of someone taking away your gun is put to bed. A total gun ban is off the table and so we can work together to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."


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