Crime, gun violence brings attendees to conferenceby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
MINNEAPOLIS — Information and examples of how to reduce gun violence will be shared at a regional conference on gun violence Thursday.
Law enforcement leaders and elected officials from several Midwestern cities and scholars who study crime and violence are expected to participate in the day-long conference in Minneapolis.
Mayor R.T. Rybak said the planning of this regional gun summit began last year before the mass shootings at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis and at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. He said those tragic events have added urgency to efforts to fight gun violence. Rybak said it is important for leaders from cities around the region to meet and figure out how they can help each other.
"What happens in Chicago, or Milwaukee, or St. Cloud, or Minneapolis or Kansas City or smaller cities in between can have some connection," Rybak said. "We want to see if there are issues about that. But mostly, we want to share ideas."
Rybak has invited the mayors from some of those cities. Police chiefs and county attorneys from around the region are also expected to attend. The conference will include presentations from scholars who will address both law enforcement strategy and gun policy.
Rybak, who supports stronger gun laws, said he first wants to address how cities can best enforce the laws that are already on the books.
"I don't jump to law changes first. There are issues of mental health. There are issues of how we access — issues in the community," Rybak said. "There are very specific issues about who is arming our kids, which is outrageous to me."
TRACING THE SOURCES
While guns used in crimes do come in from out of state, most firearms that turn up at Minnesota crime scenes were originally purchased here.
According to the most recent trace data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in 2011 nearly half of the more than 2,000 firearms recovered in Minnesota were first bought in the state. The next most-frequent gun source was Wisconsin, which was the source of 70 guns.
With regards to regulations, gun control advocates say Minnesota is already fairly restrictive compared with other states. Sam Hoover, attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said his group assigned letter grades to each state. Hoover says Minnesota rated a "C."
"Minnesota actually has done a decent amount in terms of gun violence prevention laws," Hoover said.
Hoover said Minnesota has more restrictions on who can legally possess a firearm than many other states and it also has laws that make it a crime to improperly store a gun in the presence of children.
But Minnesota can do more, Hoover said. For instance, he said the state could require background checks in private gun sales and require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms. He also would like to see measures to address trafficking.
"Minnesota can improve their law by deterring bulk purchases of handguns or other firearms," Hoover said. "Which is also a tool used for firearms traffickers."
He said Minnesota has a low gun death rate compared to other states. The most recent data from the Minnesota Department of Health show that in 2010, 347 people in the state were killed by gunfire; 279 of those deaths were suicides, 64 were homicides, and four were unintentional shootings.
However, not every state with restrictive gun laws has a low gun death rate. The state of Illinois has more strict gun laws than Minnesota, but gun violence in Chicago helped fuel more than 500 homicides in that city last year, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Some gun rights supporters, like Felicia Herman of Minneapolis are skeptical of the research commonly cited by people who support stricter gun laws. Herman, a reference librarian and the widow of author, gun rights activist and firearms instructor Joel Rosenberg, said the studies are often based on biased research.
"You really have to come in without any pre-judgment or looking for data to fit the conclusion that you want," Herman said.
She said researchers should consider a wide range of factors that contribute to violence, not just the presence of guns.
This argument and others are at the center of a fierce national debate that will likely intensify in the coming weeks as the federal government likely considers new gun control measures. -30-
- Morning Edition, 01/10/2013, 6:20 a.m.