Don Heinzman column: Minnesotans get armed

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An increasing number of Minnesotans are arming themselves with handguns, but some officials say they do not see a link between more people carrying guns and more crimes.

Don Heinzman

Don Heinzman

Sheriffs I talked to, who issue the gun carry permits, say they don’t worry about more law-abiding citizens carrying handguns, concealed or unconcealed. They worry about the ones who commit crimes with guns – with or without a permit to carry.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the total number of Minnesotans who had carry permits in 2015 was 207,045, about 1 in 20 Minnesotans. This statistic comes from reports submitted by the county sheriffs who run the background checks and issue the permits. The top five counties issuing the reports are, in order, Hennepin, Anoka, Dakota, Ramsey and Washington, which sometimes alternates with St. Louis County.

The Department of Public Safety reports that 19 percent of the permits have been issued to women.

A permit to buy a gun is handled by the local police department, which checks the applicant’s criminal record through state and national networks. A permit to carry a handgun is authorized by the county sheriff, who checks the criminal records and requires the completion of the firearms safety course. The fee is $100.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has his hunting firearm locked securely in his home. He agrees with sheriffs who do not see a link between more law-abiding people being permitted to carry handguns and more crimes.

That doesn’t mean he believes society is safer with more people carrying handguns.

The Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of Protect Minnesota, said her organization has no issue with responsible gun owners who go through the permit-to-carry application process at their county sheriff’s office, undergoing a criminal background check and completing the advanced firearms training as required by law.

Like Freeman, she pointed out that having more people carrying guns makes the state less safe. She said 80 percent of gun deaths in Minnesota are caused by suicide, not homicides. A recent Harvard study showed that individuals where guns are present are three to five times more likely to commit suicide than those living where guns are not present.

Sheriff Tim Leslie of Dakota County said he worries about those who buy the guns and subvert the system. In 2015, his office approved 3,369 carry permits.

Commander Paul Sommer, who directs the issuing of carry permits for the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, said he had concerns initially when the gun carry law was passed in 2003. He no longer has those concerns because he has not seen an increase in gun violence.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says the number of gun-carry permits spikes when there is a highly publicized shooting, such as the San Bernardino, California, shooting, during which 14 people were killed. In 2013, after the shooting of 26, including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, 60,471 Minnesotans applied for permits.

In Isanti County, the number of gun-carry permits has gone up from 438 in 2007 to 1,286 in 2015. Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk told the Isanti County News that when he looks at 2015’s statistic, he sees that 1,268 good men and women are concerned about their safety.

“These permit holders have chosen to be good gun owners, willing to have their backgrounds checked and have clean backgrounds. These people are responsible gun owners and know the laws on handguns,” Caulk said.

“Guns don’t decide to kill someone; a gun is a tool that is used to hurt someone,” he added. “It’s my statutory obligation to give out permits to carry and permits to purchase to those that qualify, and it’s also my job to look for those who shouldn’t have a handgun.”

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers.


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