Opinion editor’s note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Minnesota is closer than it’s ever been to having expanded background checks and a “red flag” law that could curb gun use in domestic violence incidents and other situations. But close isn’t good enough.
Negotiations appear to be at a critical juncture in the state Senate, where previous gun reform bills have died at the hands of GOP majority. DFLers now have a one-vote margin, but support among a few rural members appears to be questionable, and the defection of even a single DFL senator could tank the vote in the face of solid GOP opposition.
Gun rights advocates and Republicans have been particularly critical of the red flag legislation, also known as extreme risk protection orders, which would allow guns to be temporarily removed from those found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.
Domestic violence calls can be some of the most dangerous calls that law enforcement goes out on. Pope County Deputy Sheriff Josh Owen, who was buried on Saturday, was shot and killed while responding to such a call. He left behind a wife and son. Add one more death to the toll exacted in this country by domestic violence incidents in which one partner has access to firearms.
Would a red flag law necessarily have spared Owen’s life? We’ll never know. But at least there would have been a chance. Some 20 states now have red flag laws, including Florida. Another 13 states have proposed them. Adoption of such laws has been driven largely by some horrifying statistics: On average, 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner — every month.
Expanded background checks that would include handguns and semi-automatic, assault-style weapons, are also necessary. Polls have found that more than 90% of Americans support universal background checks. Legislators need to think about that, too. How long before we have votes that reflect majority positions?
Even apart from domestic violence and mass shootings, the proliferation of guns has made us a country awash in increasingly routine gun violence. A teen in Kansas City, Mo., rings the wrong doorbell while trying to pick up his siblings and is shot to death by the 84-year-old homeowner. A cheerleader in Texas is shot and killed for attempting to enter the wrong car after practice. A young woman in upstate New York was recently shot and killed after turning into the wrong driveway in an attempt to find a friend’s house. She never even got out of the car.
In last week’s State of the State speech, Gov. Tim Walz delivered a message that Minnesota legislators should heed as they consider their votes. “I’m not just a veteran or a hunter, or a gun owner,” he said. “I’m a dad. And for many years I was a teacher. I know that there’s no place for weapons of war in our schools, or in our churches, or in our banks, or anywhere else people are just trying to live their lives without fear.
“Let’s be really honest,” he said. “We’re just used to being bullied by the gun lobby. But, you know what? I got an A rating from the NRA my first term in Congress. Now I get straight Fs. And I sleep just fine. … And I’m not going to let anyone hide behind ‘thoughts and prayers’ when what we need is action now.”
How did we ever get to the point where citizens can go armed to the teeth to attend a committee hearing at the Capitol? Where lawmakers brag about packing heat in the course of their daily jobs, which include interacting with the public?
Michigan, which like Minnesota has a Democratic trifecta, has already adopted universal background checks and gun storage requirements this year, and a red flag bill is headed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk. But those and other planned reforms come in the wake of a terrible tragedy: A gunman opened fire on the Michigan State University main campus in East Lansing earlier this year, shooting eight students and killing three of them. He later died of a self-inflicted gunshot, proof that he indeed was a danger to himself and others.
Walz in his address made a bold prediction, while also serving notice to fellow Democrats: “We’ve got a gun safety bill on the table,” he said. “And we’re going to get it passed. And I’m gonna sign it. We’re going to have universal background checks. We’re going to have a red flag law to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
“And if anyone in America doubts that we can take meaningful action to protect our kids, I’ve got two words for you: Watch us.”
In Minnesota and across the country, too many lives have been lost to gunfire by those who never should have had easy access to firearms. Let’s not wait for the next tragedy.