Gun debate endures in Senate, on campus

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak spoke to College Democrats Wednesday about guns.
Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak speaks to the College Democrats about gun safety on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at Coffman Union.
February 28, 2013

As the debate on whether to change Minnesota’s firearm regulations endures in the state Legislature, the University of Minnesota continues to play an active role.

University students and officials, as well as state legislators and the public, have widely varying ideas on how the state should address gun laws, if at all.

Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak joined about a dozen of the University College Democrats in a roundtable discussion Wednesday night to discuss reducing gun violence, and last week the state Senate heard a series of gun control bills.

Rybak, who will finish his third term at the end of year, said he is pushing for universal background checks and allowing local and federal officials to share data about gun purchases.

“We all agree there are some people with significant mental health issues that shouldn’t have guns,” Rybak said. “What we should do when we are checking backgrounds is have one place where that information is shared.”

He said he is set to travel to Washington, D.C., in mid-March to take up the issue at the federal level.

Supporters and opponents of gun control filled two Senate Judiciary Committee meetings last week as many watched on in overflow rooms.

Now legislators are braced with the task of sifting through the proposals and deciding which bills will get sent forward to another committee and possibly make it to the Senate floor.

The state House of Representatives is going through the same process.

University police Lt. David Wilske said the proposals to limit gun access are simply reactions to the nation’s several mass shootings and doesn’t agree with dramatic changes to the state’s gun laws.

“Somebody who wants to get their hands on a gun, they’re going to get their hands on a gun,” he said.

Wilske, along with others, heads gun training for law enforcement at the University’s outdoor firearm training facility in Rosemount, Minn.

He said lawmakers should focus on fixing the loopholes in the state’s background checks for gun buying — the main topic of the discussion at last week’s Senate hearings.

“When you buy a vehicle, you have to go to the DMV, you have to have the title changed, there’s this process that’s associated with it,” Wilske said. “But with guns there is nothing unless you buy it from a dealer.”

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, presented a bill last Thursday that would modify the background check system for person-to-person gun sales.

His bill is trying to make sure people who shouldn’t have guns don’t, he said.

If passed, the bill would require private gun transactions to go through a federally licensed dealer at a $25 expense per permit.

Tony Hill, assistant political science professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, said Champion’s bill is the most promising of the bunch, but overall the gun control legislation isn’t going to pass.

Gov. Mark Dayton is likely going to veto the legislation, Hill said, and legislators don’t normally pass anything that the governor isn’t behind.

Dayton hasn’t spoken candidly about the gun proposals and will likely join the conversation as the session pushes forward.

Hamline law professor Joseph Olson leads the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance and opposes Champion’s bill that would change the state’s background-check system for gun buyers.

He said instead of altering the state’s laws, the agencies that run the system just need to do a better job.

“The background bill is simply a disguise for a registration system which will allow the government to know every gun that’s in every Minnesotan’s home,” Olson said.

Other opponents of the legislation, like University political science and communication studies junior Drew Christensen, said the gun control proposals are a violation of the second amendment.

“Gun control is unconstitutional,” he said. “If folks believe we ought to have some, they can amend the Constitution. I wish them the best of luck.”

Christensen is a co-chair for the University’s College Republicans student group.

Political science senior Dusten Retcher, officer for the College Democrats, said there is a fine line between penalizing law-abiding gun owners and trying to keep weapons away from violent people.

“What it boils down to is educating people about safe gun usage,” he said.

Retcher said he thinks gun purchasers should have to take a safety class on how to operate firearms.

Other bills discussed last week in the Senate include solidifying gun restrictions for people with mental illnesses, expanding liability for people who help others unlawfully get guns and allowing some retired peace officers to carry without a permit.

The committee chairman, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis, said the state’s Senate will not discuss an assault weapons ban like one proposed by Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.

Gun violence on campus

Lawmakers, gun activists, gun control proponents and others are trying to find the best solution to end gun violence — a problem Wilske said the University has mostly figured out.

“If you look at the size of the University, and geographically where it is positioned in this huge metropolitan area, our gun violence is very low,” he said.

In the event of a mass shooting, police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner previously told the Minnesota Daily that his department is fully prepared.

Wilske said with the campus’ 24/7 police department, there’s no reason for people to feel the need to carry guns on campus, something that Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, has talked about pushing legislatively.

Under the current University policy, law enforcement, military personnel, people in military training and those who receive presidential permission can carry firearms on campus.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states ban concealing a firearm on college campuses, while 23 — including Minnesota — leave the decision up to the school.

Five states allow conceal and carry on public campuses — including Wisconsin.

Wisconsin schools can still restrict guns in campus buildings with proper signage.

Christensen said lawmakers should look into allowing teachers, after they receive the proper firearm training, to have guns in their classrooms to use in case of an attack.

“It’s common sense to have people there to protect children from people who seek to do them harm,” he said.

Retcher said the primary goal of the University should be to provide a safe environment for students.

He said the University shouldn’t make any changes to its gun policies and, unlike Christensen, he doesn’t think teachers should have weapons in classrooms.

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