Sheriff weighs in on gun lawsPublished 10:42am Thursday, February 28, 2013
Some Minnesota residents are concerned that proposed tougher gun laws may restrict their rights to purchase guns. While Brian Schlueter, Sheriff of Otter Tail County, says it’s tough to forsee where all of the legislation will end up, he strongly supports the Constitution, including a citizen’s right to bear arms.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, Congress is reviewing several bills regarding banning assault weapons, toughening penalties for illegal trafficking of guns, increasing federal grants for school safety programs, and requiring federal background checks for gun purchases.
Minnesota is also reviewing a slew of gun control proposals, with bills proposed in the State Legislature to make it harder for criminals to get guns and giving law enforcement more control over weapons permits.
Some gun enthusiasts are worried about potential new gun laws that will make it hard to purchase certain guns, such as the kind of weaponry used at Sandy Hook. The possibility of gun restrictions has increased gun sales and permit applications in Otter Tail County.
In 2011, there were 761 gun carry and gun purchase permits issued in Otter Tail County. In 2012 there were 1,052. While permit numbers can fluctuate depending on when existing permits are renewed, officials acknowledge they are seeing an increase in applications and permits being issued.
“I’m not looking for a reason to deny people a gun permit,” said Brian Schlueter, Sheriff of Otter Tail County. “I’m a strong second amendment supporter of the people’s right to own and carry a firearm. But if there is a reason, we will deny it.”
A bill by state Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, would make it easier for law enforcement to deny firearms permits based on the likelihood of the applicant being a danger to themselves or the public.
Local law enforcement says better information on applicants would be a benefit in some instances.
“There is a lack of available data on a person’s mental illness history and that could be improved,” said Schlueter. “But currently, if we have information that a person is a danger to the public or themselves, we can use that as a basis for denial.”
Schlueter adds that if a person is known to the department through criminal activity, they can use that information in determining whether to issue a gun permit.
Golden Lakes Pawn in Fergus Falls reported an increase in sales of semiautomatic rifles in December. Neigel Firearms owner Jim Neigel said this has been a trend throughout the industry. According to Neigel, every time something like the elementary school massacre happens, people get scared their rights to purchase weapons will be taken away.
Schlueter said he doesn’t think semi-automatic weapons should be banned.
“What if the terrorist’s weapon of choice was a shotgun — would people support taking away hunting shotguns?” said Schlueter. “In my opinion, a shot gun is equally as dangerous as an AR 15 semi-automatic rifle.”
A gun show in Mankato was flooded with people looking to buy guns last weekend, including Bruce Francis of Owatonna. He sees the potential for a couple of new restrictions to turn into something else.
“I think it’s just a stepping stone — to taking our guns away,” said Francis.
Another Minnesota bill introduced is intended to create a system where people who might be struggling with mental illness or other issues can surrender their firearms and be on a list to be prohibited from buying guns for a pre-set period of time. However, it would be up to local authorities to store the weapons.
“I would be totally against that,” said Schlueter. “We don’t have the manpower or space for that.”
Gun rights and gun control advocates generally agree that something can be done about gun violence, though it may take a while to sort out the details.
“It’s not the gun’s fault — there’s no legislation that’s going to prevent evil,” said Schlueter. “Why punish the law abiding citizens.”