DULUTH — Hours after Police Chief Mike Tusken held a media conference at the Public Safety Building to talk about the surge in gun-related incidents, there was another one — this time in the center of the city's tourism district.
A person was shot in the lower leg by an acquaintance on Wednesday night in Canal Park, according to police. The incident — along with several others involving guns — is still under investigation.
Duluth averages between 20 and 22 gun incidents in a year. There have been 21 reported shootings in the city so far in 2022 — including seven in both April and June so far. It is a tally that is on pace to match a record set two years ago, Tusken said, and it comes at a time when the department is short by 22 officers.
"We saw 41 incidents where shots were fired or shootings. and so we kind of use that as a water mark for really high," Tusken said of 2020. "It is something that ebbs and flows, and it is not always easy to tell why that is."
In at least six cases this year, the firearm went off accidentally — including a situation early Saturday morning at Aces on First. In a fight between four patrons at the downtown bar, a gun fell from the waistband of one of the men involved. A bystander picked it up, accidentally shooting another man in the foot.
Within the five other accidental shootings, these incidents most often occur when an owner is cleaning a gun.
"This isn't an anomaly that happens once in a moon," Tusken said. "We've had six this year."
The majority of reported gun activity is intentional. Earlier this month there was a call about gunshots in the city's Central Hillside neighborhood, and a few weeks later there was a fight on a Duluth Transit Authority bus — with shots fired when the passengers got off the bus. These cases are both under investigation.
Tusken said his department is proactive in its approach to illegal gun activity. Between the region's Lake Superior Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force and patrol officers, 20 firearms have been recovered this year.
"We know that in America there's over 400 million guns; there's more guns than people in this country," Tusken said. "One of the unfortunate parts of gun violence — many times people who shouldn't have guns are getting guns, and they're getting guns because oftentimes they're stolen from law-abiding citizens because they're not secured properly."
St. Louis County Attorney Kimberly Maki said Wednesday that her office takes an aggressive stance on firearm offenses. They generally will not negotiate or offer a plea on gun charges, and they will not agree to departure from sentencing guidelines. In cases where a person has had a previous offense or a dangerous criminal history, they seek "significant bail."
"We're ready to vigorously litigate these cases," she said.
Tusken also announced Wednesday changes to how the department will be handling car accidents without injuries. The officers will go to the scene and facilitate an exchange of information but will consolidate the amount of time spent on incident reports.