5Q :: Gun-control laws always an issue with Northland ‘Moms’Minnesota recently scored a 15 out of 100 by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, so we turned to Joan Peterson of the local Millions Moms chapter to find out where her organization thinks our state is failing.
No matter who’s in office, gun control is always an issue. To help us understand why Minnesota recently scored a 15 out of 100 by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — among other issues regarding the sale of firearms — we turned to Joan Peterson, who, along with Mary Streufert, heads the local Million Mom advocacy group:
Budgeteer: Why did you get involved with the Brady Campaign? Was anyone close to you a victim of gun violence?
Peterson: I got involved in the Brady Campaign after the first Million Mom March on Mothers’ Day of 2000. I went to Washington, D.C., with a large delegation from Duluth and had a moving and amazing experience seeing so many victims of gun violence holding signs up for loved ones and singing songs, etc.
There were actually 750,000 on the [National] Mall that day. It was overwhelming.
There is a Northland Chapter board of eight members who work on local events and issues and get our members involved. Of those eight, four of us — including me — have lost loved ones to gun injuries. It lends passion to the issue and also credibility when we are lobbying elected leaders. It is hard for elected leaders to listen to our stories, but we do tell them.
My sister was shot to death in 1992 by her estranged husband during a protracted and difficult divorce. That changed the focus of my life. … Before the march in 2000, there really was not a grassroots movement for people like me. I am now the national chapter-elected representative to the Brady Campaign Board of Trustees.
What do the Million Mom chapters do exactly? What kind of projects do you participate in to raise awareness for the campaign’s causes?
The MMM chapters were formed to raise awareness about gun violence prevention and to work toward passing common-sense gun legislation at the local, state and national level. We have bell ringings, marches, forums, speakers, etc. to do these things and we get our activists informed and involved through our mailing and e-mail lists.
Duluth has the only Memorial Bell Garden devoted to victims of gun violence (for Minnesota) in the country. We often gather there to ring the bell in memory of lost loved ones or after a horrendous shooting — Red Lake, for example, and Virginia Tech. We appear on local programs if we can get on and we have press conferences and write op-eds and letters to the editor as well. We lobby at the state and national level for bills or to stop certain bills from happening.
We actually have a great relationship with our state and federal legislators, who meet with us on a regular basis. They often hear from us as we have a pretty large mailing and e-mail list and can get people to respond quickly when needed. We have affected change, actually.
Recently there was an effort, led by South Dakota Sen. John Thune, to nationalize conceal-and-carry laws. Because of our ability to activate so many people quickly, we were able to send out e-mails and make phone calls to our senators’ offices in D.C. and they both voted against the measure. It failed for lack of a cloture vote.
We continue to show our faces at events and forums and meet with our leaders when we can to let them know that we are here and we represent a lot of people who agree with us.
On a state level, how does Minnesota fare with others when it comes to keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them?
Minnesota got a score of 15 points (out of 100) on the recent Brady Campaign state report card. California scored the highest with 79 points and Utah the lowest with 0 points.
Minnesota is one of 33 states that do not require Brady background checks on all sales of guns — and particularly at gun shows, where it is estimated that 40 percent of dealers are private sellers. The ATF has found gun shows to be major contributors to illegal gun trafficking. We have been working for several years now to get a bill passed to close this loophole. Since the Brady Bill was enacted in 1994, over 1.6 million prohibited purchasers have been denied guns.
But that is just through federally licensed firearms dealers. Private sellers are not required to make the buyer go through a background check, so they can sell any kind of gun to anyone, including felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill people and even terrorists. These sellers are allowed to do this legally so they are not at fault unless they knowingly sell to someone that clearly cannot pass a background check.
But, by allowing this loophole, sellers can unknowingly sell guns to those who should not have them. The gun show background check “loophole” is our main concern right now, though there are other areas where Minnesota falls short: We have passed a permit-to-carry law, we do not have an assault weapons ban and guns are allowed in parking lots of work places. These are some of the areas the Brady Campaign looked at in the grading.
Is your group ever confronted by gun zealots who think you’re out to eradicate all firearms? How do you combat that sort of attitude/those misconceptions?
We are constantly faced with gun “zealots” who believe we are out to get their guns. We do not say that nor do we want to do anything like that. Our goal is to keep guns from those who should not have them, but it is often misconstrued and misstated on purpose to make us look like “gun grabbers.”
Since the Supreme Court passed the Heller decision in 2008 finding that the Second Amendment guarantees a right for individuals to bear arms, no one could take away guns anyway. But that doesn’t stop the rhetoric about what our “intentions” are. It is difficult to combat these misconceptions.
The NRA has successfully convinced its members and our elected leaders that that is what will happen if we pass any kind of common-sense measure to keep us safe. Our elected leaders have come to believe that they can’t be re-elected if they take up the gun issue. That is nonsense, of course, because many NRA-supported candidates lose their elections. The NRA spent an enormous amount of money against Barack Obama and he won anyway. He also hasn’t done anything they said he would do.
We are frustrated with this and know that the majority is with us, but we are waiting for our leaders to be brave enough to buck the powerful NRA.
In a recent poll by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, gun owners were polled on a number of gun issues. Of those polled, 82 percent of gun owners support gun show background checks on all sales and 69 percent of NRA members also support it. This should show people that even NRA members do not agree with their own leadership but do agree with us. We have found this to be true in our talks with hunters and gun owners. We are working with some of these folks and they have been quite helpful to us.
But we do get called ugly names personally or on Web sites, and we can be the target of nasty phone calls and letters. It is disconcerting, but it does not stop us.
Finally, I saw your group was helping to promote Dennis Henigan’s book “Lethal Logic” — what other resources on gun control would you recommend our readers look at to further educate themselves?
Dennis Henigan, vice president for law and policy at the Brady Center, came to Duluth in September of 2009 to talk about his book. It is a great resource for anyone who wants to explore the myths of the gun issue.
A recent book by Washington state MMM activist Heidi Yewman, who also came to Duluth in September, is “Beyond the Bullet.” Heidi attended Columbine High School before the shootings but was greatly affected by that event. She decided to interview victims of gun injuries and families of victims who had been killed by guns. It is a very sensitive and beautiful book about what it is like to be a victim. We contributed a copy of both books to the Duluth Public Library.
I can also recommend Jodi Picoult’s book “Nineteen Minutes,” which is about a school shooting. It is fiction but clearly used Columbine as the model. Recently, the Duluth PTSA read the book for a book club discussion which I attended. It deals with bullying in schools and the effect of the bullying and how easy it is for kids in trouble to get their hands on guns.
One of my favorite fiction books is “Balance of Power” by Richard North Patterson, which deals with gun issues in the plot. Also, “A Well-Regulated Militia” by Saul Cornell, a professor at Ohio State and director of the Second Amendment Research Center at the John Glenn Institute — he came to Minnesota several years ago and a group of us heard him speak. Then a University of Minnesota professor, Earl McDowell, has written “America’s Great Gun Game.” Earl sits on the Board of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota with me.
Learn more about the Brady Campaign and the local Million Moms chapter at www.bradycampaign.org/chapters/MN.