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The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Gun safety activists strive for safer Minnesota

Local gun safety advocate groups dissect Minnesota gun laws and the long road to safety.
Image by Leah Kondes (courtesy)
Organizations such as the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action are pushing for the legislature to pass better gun violence prevention laws.

Following Minnesota’s flurry of gun violence prevention laws passed last session, many gun safety advocates agree more legislation is needed, though the debate on gun violence causes and solutions continues. 

Second Amendment and gun control activists both lobbied legislators, but gun control activists won out as the legislature passed universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders. 

However, gun control activists did not get all they asked for; legislation requiring proper storage of firearms in cars and homes and mandating reporting of stolen and missing firearms fell short. Both bills will be reintroduced this session.

The faces behind the picket signs

Founded after the Sandy Hook school shooting, Moms Demand Action is a nationwide organization pushing for “common-sense gun laws.” Leah Kondes, a volunteer with the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action, said she wanted to act before a loved one gets hurt, when asked about why she got involved with gun violence protection.

“I didn’t need to wait for Moms Demand Action to invite me to a city council meeting. Anyone can go to city council,” Kondes said. “That is a lesson that I learned late in life. And so now we’d love to pay it forward to your generation.”

Kondes had her first daughter in 1999 when the Columbine school shooting occurred. Seeing the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, 20 years later motivated Kondes to action.

“This has been my kid’s whole life,” Kondes said. “And it’s getting worse. It’s not getting better.”

Moms Demand Action also has a Students Demand Action chapter at the University of Minnesota, which registered as a student group in spring 2024. 

Timberlyn Mazeikis was a sophomore at Michigan State University when a man opened fire on campus, killing three of her classmates. Following the shooting, Mazeikas joined Michigan’s chapter of Students Demand Action, before transferring to the University of Minnesota. 

“Students Demand Action at Michigan State was a really big part of my healing from that traumatic event,” Mazeikis said. 

Since her transfer in fall 2023, Mazeikis has worked to organize a chapter of Students Demand Action for the University.

“Being a part of a student organization [on] campus is a great way to get involved at the University and meet other people who are passionate about this,” Mazeikis said. “Even if you have not been directly a survivor of gun violence, you most likely know somebody or it’s been right on campus.”

Apart from being a survivor of gun violence herself, Protect Minnesota Executive Director Maggiy Emery said she has grown up in an era of gun violence. Emery said Minnesota has been a middle-of-the-road state when it comes to gun violence prevention. 

“We’re doing some things right, but we still have a lot of improvements to make,” Emery said. “I think there’s so much more that we can bring.”

The policies being considered

Nick Majerus, a member of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, gained an interest in gun safety after teaching adolescent boys how to properly use guns at a scout camp for two summers. Majerus said without the Democratic trifecta in Minnesota, the caucus would push for a stand-your-ground law.

“Those priorities would be like codifying the castle doctrine and constitutional carry and stand-your-ground,” Majerus said. “We believe [those] are just common sense expansions to Minnesotans’ constitutional rights.”

Emery said besides safe storage and reporting lost and stolen firearms, reversing firearm preemption law could also make communities safer around the metro area. Minnesota’s current firearm preemption law gives authority to the state to regulate firearm laws. Reversing it would give local governments the power to regulate firearm laws. 

“I think it will go a long way towards making our community safer, giving cities their own options around that,” Emery said. 

Majerus said his caucus opposes reversing Minnesota’s preemptive firearm laws. According to Majerus, without preemptive firearm laws, lawfully carrying a gun in one municipality could be illegal in the one next door. 

“In our opinion, it’s like a pretty big conflict with the fact that like a carry permit is a statewide permit,” Majerus said.

Another bill moving through the Minnesota state House would eliminate the mandatory minimum sentencing of five years for illegally possessing firearms. Majerus said this bill, among others, fails to meaningfully address gun violence. 

“If you want to talk about ways to meaningfully address gun violence, I don’t think preemption is it,” Majerus said. “And I don’t think that reducing the penalty for gun criminals is either.”

Considering mental health with gun violence prevention 

The Violence Prevention Project is a research project located at Hamline University that is dedicated to reducing gun violence. Emery said the project found the majority of people who commit mass shootings are also suicidal. 

“If we can address suicidality before it erupts into an extreme crisis, we can help prevent those mass shootings as well,” Emery said. 

Emery said loneliness and mental health are key factors in combating gun violence. In Minnesota, 73% of gun violence is from suicide and 24% from homicides. Kondes added the safe and secure storage bill creates a needed barrier for people experiencing a mental health crisis. 

“Just having that firearm locked and loaded, all those things just make it more difficult for someone in a time of crisis to follow through on them,” Kondes said. 

The Minnesota Legislature is also considering raising the penalties against straw purchases of firearms from a gross misdemeanor to a felony. A straw purchase is when someone buys a firearm for someone else who would not pass a background check due to past charges or prohibitions. 

Ashley Dyrdahl, the girlfriend of Shannon Godden, who shot three first responders in Burnsville, was indicted for allegedly straw purchasing firearms for Gooden. Majerus said the caucus remains neutral on straw purchases, but he would agree with the penalties being increased. 

Mazeikis said mental health and gun violence prevention are separate issues that often overlap, making it necessary to address both. Mazeikis added mental health resources are often neglected by the government, despite their positive effect on gun safety. 

“I don’t feel that we can address our gun violence epidemic in our country by just addressing mental health,” Mazeikis said. “I 100% believe that we should have the resources for people who are going through this struggle and this mental health crisis, we also should be limiting their access to a firearm.”

Kondes also said discussions around mental health and gun control are often positioned as an either-or approach. Kondes added that if communities can stop thinking about this issue as binary, we can make more progress toward safety. 

“It has been positioned as an either-or, right? It’s not the gun. It’s mental health,” Kondes said. “I think the rebuttal to that as well is, guess what? There are people with mental health challenges in other countries, and they are not dying by guns at the rate that Americans are.”

Majerus said laws like the recently passed Red Flag law, which gives courts the power to remove guns from people who pose a risk to themself or others, fall short of addressing concerns of those in mental health crises obtaining firearms. 

“In that bill, there is no provision for providing these people support,” Majerus said. “From our perspective, there’s no real way to address that person in crisis, it only removes the firearms.”

Besides advocating for gun safety through laws, Mazeikis said communities need gun prevention programs to learn about gun-related issues. 

In 2022, 569 Minnesotans died from gun violence with 407 of those deaths being from suicide. Emery said all those deaths were preventable and there are things everyone can do to change that number. 

“Gun violence isn’t like any other kind of public health emergency that we’re facing because all of those deaths are preventable,” Emery said. “There are things that we can do as individuals, communities and lawmakers to prevent those deaths.”

This article has been updated.

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  • Leah Kondes
    Mar 22, 2024 at 7:39 am

    Good morning, Dylan. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is not against guns or gun owners. We are for gun safety and against gun violence. I believe we should address mental health AND common-sense gun laws. To me, it’s not an either/or situation. It’s a “yes, and…”

  • Dylan
    Mar 21, 2024 at 11:43 am

    Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Our culture has degraded to the point where people view it as an acceptable choice to either kill themselves, or others. If we want to stop the problem of mass shootings and suicides, we need to get rid of the nihilistic thought process that is so prevalent in our schools and lives.