State Rep. Tony Cornish is a well-known and zealous advocate for gun rights. The retired peace officer and chairman of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee boasts of packing one and sometimes two weapons on his person at the State Capitol. Well and good. That is his right under the Constitution.
But when Cornish uses the power of his chairmanship to block even a hearing on proposed legislation that would require background checks for firearms sold at gun shows and online in Minnesota, he goes too far.
The bill proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, and Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-Cottage Grove, who is a police officer, is yet another attempt at common-sense changes that are broadly supported by Minnesotans and that have proved effective in other states. They are backed by Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, national groups that emerged in response to the 2012 mass shooting at a Newton, Conn., school that left 20 children and six adults dead. The proposal would close a flawed loophole in a law that requires federally licensed handgun dealers to do background checks on prospective customers, but not individuals who sell at firearms shows or online. That is no small loophole. Latz noted that the current law covers only 60 percent of gun sales in the state. A quick check of armslist.com for Minnesota shows 198 pages of listings for arms and related accessories. Want a brand-new, double-action Glock for $400? Shipped directly to your home and no questions asked.
A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll in January showed an overwhelming 82 percent of Minnesotans support universal background checks. That included 74 percent of gun owners and 71 percent of Republicans polled. Supporters know this simple preventive measure takes less than three minutes and can keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.
Cornish, who called such poll results “bogus,” said he doesn’t know of anyone who has lost an election in Minnesota by defending gun rights. “I don’t think there is any middle ground,” he said flatly. “There is no future for gun bills this year in the House and probably as long as I’m chair.”
Cornish is far from the only statehouse opponent of expanded checks. But as chairman, he is in a unique position to stop efforts before they even start. He should reconsider. There is a growing desire to curb gun violence, and advocates for background checks deserve to have their points of view heard. Cornish has dealt with complex and bedeviling public safety issues before, and with nearly 15 years of legislative experience under his belt, should be capable of finding the elusive middle ground.
Research on the effectiveness of gun policies is scarce because of a relentless campaign by gun-rights advocates to prohibit federal funding of such research. But we do know this much: Background checks save lives.
The 18 states that require background checks on all handgun purchases have had 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers killed by handguns and 46 percent fewer women shot in domestic violence incidents. There were also 48 percent fewer gun suicides in states with full background checks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Licensed dealers already do the responsible thing. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System they use, or NICS, has blocked more than 2 million sales to prohibited people in the last decade. What types of buyers get blocked? The list is not long: addicts, felons, people committed for mental illness, undocumented immigrants and those convicted of domestic violence or who are under a court order for harassment. But in Minnesota, nothing stops them from shopping at a show or online.
The background system is there for our protection. It should not be so easy to circumvent.