- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 16

Let’s start with facts to address gun violence

Amid the ritual offering of thoughts and prayers for the latest victims of gun violence, here’s something members of Congress can do that will not limit the distribution of guns nor infringe on perceived freedoms contained within the Second Amendment.

They can, and should without delay, lift the 20-year-old ban on federal research on gun violence.

Tens of thousands of Americans are killed or injured by guns every year, but mass shootings have become a notoriously American problem. The latest attack claimed the lives of 17 people at a Florida high school on Wednesday, including a heroic assistant coach/security guard who died trying to protect students.

Gun violence is the least-researched leading cause of death in the U.S. It has been since 1996, when the gun lobby got Congress to pass the Dickey amendment, which prevented federal funds from being used to “advance or promote gun control.” It snuffed out ongoing research at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eliminating millions in funding grants.

Since then, the debate over how to curb gun violence has raged on, with every potential solution criticized for lack of proof that it would work. This is the cynical way to block public policy. First, make it impossible to gather the needed facts, then attack solutions you dislike for lack of facts. Meanwhile, people are dying. Children are dying. In movie theaters and nightclubs, at music concerts and schools. That is unconscionable. Every member of Congress standing for re-election should act to lift that ban or explain their reasons to the public.

House Speaker Paul Ryan relied on the dearth of research again on Thursday in cautioning against a rush to action. “This is not the time to jump to some conclusion, not knowing the full facts,” he said. “We have a system to prevent people who aren’t supposed to get guns from getting guns. And if there are gaps there, then we need to look at those gaps.”

“If”? There is no “if.” The gaps exist. They were widened last year, when President Donald Trump signed the rollback of a modest Obama-era rule to limit the ability of certain people with mental illness to purchase firearms.

Cars are far safer than they once were because automotive deaths and risks were studied deeply, leading to safety improvements. Alan Leshner, former head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told CNN that gun violence is “one of the few public health problems facing the country about which we have basically no scientific base of information to guide us how to deal with it.” The reluctance to do such research, he said, “makes no sense.” One optimistic note: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress Thursday that he will allow his department to conduct research into gun violence, despite the ban. We hope he is allowed to do so.

After the 2016 election, representatives from dozens of top public health schools across the country met with public health and advocacy organizations to talk about what they could do to change the conversation on guns. Their proposal to strengthen research, build public health networks, foster collaboration among oppositional groups and nurture state initiatives is a good one. Most important, they said, “there is a need to convene an inclusive group of firearm owners, firearm manufacturers, police, pro-firearm advocates, safety advocates, academics and others to develop a common ground around the public health impact of firearms and the need for broad-based action to mitigate the consequences of civilian firearm ownership.”

We could not agree more. Resurrecting the same arguments, hurling the same cherry-picked stats at one another, is not working.

The Editorial Board urges Minnesota’s universities and private foundations and donors to begin research right here, to work with anti-gun advocacy groups and, yes, gun rights groups and hunters and firearm owners. Seek facts, discuss the results, find common ground. We will be looking for those willing to come together and help Minnesota lead the way on initiatives that strike a balance between freedom and safety, that break the numbing cycle of shootings, prayers, debate and inaction.

The alternative is too awful to contemplate: That this nation will stand by and allow its citizens to be regularly slaughtered in mass shootings because it is unwilling to do anything else.

___

Mankato Free Press, Feb. 16

Gun Violence: Inaction is deafening with every shot

When these pages decried the gun violence that killed 58 concertgoers and injured 500 more at the hands of a madman with “machine gun” in Las Vegas, we said more such tragedies were likely on the way.

We only needed to wait about four months. We watched in horror again as panicked students ran from their high school in Parkland, Florida, as a former student pulled the fire alarm and gunned them down as they exited their classrooms. Another horrific milestone. With 17 killed, the shooting came in second as the largest mass shooting at a school, behind the 26 killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

The only thing more horrific than the carnage is the fact that our elected leaders have no answers, no response, not even a serious discussion about common sense restrictions on the rampant availability of guns in America. They have little or no response to the flaws in our selling of firearms and enforcement of current laws involving firearms.

The one common sense policy that had broad bipartisan support is now stalled in Congress by way of the NRA.

That law called for the banning of the so-called “bump stocks” used by the Las Vegas shooter to turn his rifle into a machine gun.

Ironically, perhaps, the chief author of the bipartisan bill to ban bump stocks - Rep. Carlos Curbelo - is from Florida. And while the NRA agreed the bump stocks should be banned, it did not support the legislation, instead saying the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms could somehow administratively ban the devices.

It was another dodge, another successful manipulation of congressional leadership that has effectively stalled the issue.

Other inaction continues to make our communities unsafe and exposes them to the burgeoning menace of gun violence.

There are still no background checks for secondary market gun sales at gun shows or online in some cases. And the laws we do have are poorly enforced.

The ATF is so understaffed that a gun store in Washington state was able sell firearms illegally for years. Many of its guns turned up in crimes.

The ATF is charged with checking the compliance of 139,000 firearms dealers in the U.S. It had resources to conduct compliance checks in 2015 on just 6.5 percent of those dealers.

The assault rifle ban that expired in 2004 was supported by large bipartisan coalitions in Congress when it was first implemented, and it emanated from a series of events that included an assassination attempt on one of our presidents and the permanent injuring of one of his aides. But it’s 2018 and the Florida shooter, age 19, easily purchased an assault rifle.

In fact, the current Congress appears to be headed in the opposite direction of common sense gun restrictions. A bill that would loosen federal regulations on silencers passed a House committee last year. While House GOP Speaker Paul Ryan said he had no plans to bring it to the House floor anytime soon, other observers say it’s still alive.

Silencers could make shooters more difficult to detect, especially in cases like the Las Vegas shooting.

The legislation would remove a federal requirement for a special license in order to buy silencers. It would also loosen restrictions for transporting firearms across state lines and change the definition of armor piercing ammunition to make it subject to fewer federal regulations, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Citizen safety should be more important than appeasing the gun lobby. Until we take a stand and implement these common-sense solutions, supported by large majorities of our citizens, Americans will continue to involuntarily sacrifice their lives in our schools, churches and movie theaters.

___

St. Cloud Times, Feb. 16

Pure politics or good government? What will legislative session hold?

So which state elected officials are going to show up at the Capitol when this year’s legislative session opens Tuesday?

Will it be those who touted bipartisanship and friendliness at last week’s annual pre-session media briefing? Or will it be those elected officials who not only took political shots at each other last session, but filed lawsuits about each other’s actions after that session?

But wait a minute … aren’t these the same people? Pretty much, yes.

For the Republican-controlled Legislature, we’re talking about House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. For the Democrats, it’s Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.

While there are close to 200 other legislators in the mix, these four elected officials are in the best position to set the tone for this three-month legislative session.

What that tone will be is truly a guess. As much as these four sounded like good friends at last Tuesday’s media event, they also are the undeniable reason last session ended with bitter, partisan bickering and a major lawsuit stemming from legislative gamesmanship and a gubernatorial veto.

And then there is the latest lawsuit involving who should serve as the lieutenant governor. Don’t kid yourself. It’s a political battle purely about controlling the Senate, not who should serve as Minnesota’s No. 2. Central Minnesota Sen. Michelle Fishcbach, a Republican and Senate president, stands in the center of the battle.

So we ask again: Which state elected leaders will show up Tuesday?

Before you answer, it’s important to note that even though this is a short session, the Legislature and governor have plenty of important issues to resolve.

Tops on that list is the need for Minnesota to adjust its tax structure to match with recent federal tax changes. Failure to do so will cause plenty of confusion, plus increase taxes for a large number of Minnesotans.

If you’re wondering what might happen, don’t forget that the entire House and governor’s chair are on the Election Day ballot this fall.

Another major issue is the size of a statewide bonding bill. Yes, we said size - not if a bill will pass. (Did we mention the entire House and governor’s chair are on the Election Day ballot this fall?)

Republican desires set the low end of a bonding package at about $800 million, perhaps less. Democrat desires put the top end at $1.2 billion, perhaps more. Again, knowing elections loom, expect a compromise near $1 billion.

Of course, the two other big issues are those lawsuits.

Dayton in June vetoed all funding for the Legislature in an effort (think retaliation) to get Republicans to fix a tax bill he signed but did not like. Courts upheld his veto, so now leaders must pass a bill that returns that legislative funding. Stay tuned.

The other lawsuit involves Fischbach. A judge last week dismissed Democrats’ lawsuit to force Fischbach out of her Senate seat. The ruling could be appealed.

Regardless, the session opens Tuesday, which could quickly reveal whether Fischbach can serve in both roles - as she desires - or if she will have to pick one.

Again, which elected officials will show up - those who tout friendliness or those who put partisanship first?

Recent legislative sessions point toward the latter. Still, it’s anybody’s guess.


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