By Peg Ludtke, SCVANOW Secretary

Reverend Nancy Nord Bence’s passion for protecting all Minnesotans from gun violence is obvious. As a minister, she has been on the front line during the aftermath of gun violence and seen first-hand its crippling, or deadly effect on families. Her superiors in the Lutheran Ministries felt this was the best use of her talents and this is her full-time position.

At the January 13th full membership meeting of SCVANOW, the executive director of Protect Minnesota presented a practical framework for making all of us safer against gun violence by declaring it a health emergency, a topic being championed by our Healthcare Team.

To those who doubt we can make headway because of the Second Amendment, she quoted none other than the extremely conservative former Chief Justice Antonin Scalia, who stated in 2008, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” In other words, in the case of the right to bear arms, we can legislate limits on who bears them, where they bear them, and what arms can be sold to whom.

Bence said this means that instead of engaging in a heated debate over eliminating the Second Amendment (that gets us nowhere), we should be working with Second Amendment enthusiasts to design legislation that makes guns safer.

She pointed out that gun owners want this too. They make up approximately 45% of households in MN, and 95% of them are not members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). While they value guns for hunting, they also agree with Protect Minnesota that we need more gun safety. It is truly not a matter of taking away guns but making all of us safer.

Reverend Bence made a compelling argument for treating gun violence for what it is — a public health problem. Like traffic and road safety injuries and fatalities, gun violence should be treated as a public safety issue.

Declaring a health emergency begins with research and by reviewing what Ralph Nader did to make our roads and driving safer with measures such as speed limits, seatbelts, and airbags, as a model. At that time vehicle fatalities were a health emergency with nine of every thousand people being killed or injured in them annually. Today we have four times as many cars on the road and the fatality rate is less than two percent. That health emergency has been addressed and this one must be too. People own more guns today than cars.

There were 432 Minnesota gun-related deaths in 2016, which is more than were caused by either traffic accidents or opioids in this state.

How can we work to lower this number? Through research, we know that 80% of these deaths were suicides. How can we prevent these tragedies by keeping guns away from those in crisis who might use them to end their lives? With valid research, good legislation for decreasing these numbers, like the Red Flag Bill, will be enacted, she said.

Two key bills will be presented to the Minnesota Legislature this session. The Criminal Background Check Bill would mandate that all gun purchasers get a permit from a law officer before being able to purchase a gun, both from retailers or private owners. This would not apply to sales within families.

The other bill is the Red Flag Bill that allows family members to ask the law to confiscate guns from someone if it appears they might harm themselves or others with them. Bills such as these have been effective in other states. With this legislation, mass shootings like Parkland and Sandy Hook might have been avoided.

We also need to educate the public on how to be safe, she said. Reverend Bence cited the example of the PSA slogan, Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, as a successful campaign to increase public awareness of the deadly hazards of drunk driving. Similarly, good public education about gun violence can also save lives. For example, although 67% of gun owners say they own a gun for protection, they could be made aware that a gun in the house makes it 22 times more likely that a family member will be injured or killed by it.

Ideally, with public education and more legislation, gun manufacturers can be pressured to make guns safer, especially if they fall into the wrong hands. If the public demands it, manufacturers will do it.

For instance guns today have hairline triggers. This is why children accidentally get killed so often. This doesn’t have to be the case, but the problem continues because Congressmen, in the pocket of the NRA, passed a law exempting gun manufacturers from being sued. This must change. If this wasn’t the case, gunmakers would most likely be under the same pressure that cigarette and alcohol manufacturers are today.

Bence reminded us that this will not be an easy fight. The Minnesota Congress is poised to make headway by passing the Red Flag and Criminal Background Check bills. This can happen with our help, individually and as a team of SCVANOW members. You can go to the Protect Minnesota website for a wealth of powerful facts and talking points, as well as actions and upcoming events. You can also text “orange” to 474747 to get updates on what is happening and how you can get involved in making Minnesota safer from gun violence.

Another hopeful sign is that 53 “orange star” candidates, who vow to fight to reduce gun violence, were elected to the state legislature in 2019.

This is the year to protect Minnesota from gun violence. SCVANOW is committed to helping make that so.

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