As a new Minnesotan, I was surprised to see so many bars displaying signs stating that guns are banned on the premises. I took it for granted that guns had no place in bars.
But there is no Minnesota law categorically prohibiting people with Minnesota permits to carry from bringing loaded guns into bars. The decision whether to prohibit guns is up to the bar owner. Many Minnesotans likely aren't aware of that policy decision as they contemplate the Oct. 10 mass shooting at St. Paul's Seventh Street Truck Park.
That day we lost Marquisha Wiley, a 27-year old vet tech who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She joins 31 other victims of homicide in St. Paul in 2021 — only two fewer than St. Paul's record, set just last year with almost three months left in 2021. Minneapolis is on track to exceed the city's record number of shootings, and its gun homicides are on par with numbers during the mid-1990s, when some christened the city "Murderapolis."
These numbers don't reflect the full damage. Witnesses at the Truck Park shooting described the scene as "hellish" — a "horror." The trauma these witnesses will carry with them is difficult to measure. The 14 individuals wounded in the crossfire add to the severe public health crisis caused by gun violence injuries, which are often life-altering. There is also the financial toll on businesses — the Truck Park, of course, but also its neighbors and other establishments already struggling.
Gun enthusiasts would have you believe that the Second Amendment creates an unfettered right to carry firearms in public places. A common refrain: "Can't you understand what 'shall not be infringed' means?" There is no legal support for this assertion, however.
The U.S. Supreme Court's seminal 2008 decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, holds that law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to possess a firearm in their homes for self-defense. That's it. In the opinion written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court explained, "the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
Consistent with the Supreme Court's guidance, courts across the country have consistently upheld gun safety laws against Second Amendment challenges. The Second Amendment allows governments to require background checks, impose waiting periods before gun purchases, prohibit felons and domestic abusers from possessing guns and, yes, ban the carrying of guns in sensitive areas, such as bars.
Recently, here in Minnesota, Ramsey County Judge Laura Nelson rejected a Second Amendment challenge to the decision to ban firearms and install metal detectors at the State Fair.
There is no question that the Second Amendment allows meaningful regulation of firearms. At least, that's true today.
In the term that began this month, for the first time in over a decade, the Supreme Court will address the scope of the Second Amendment in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (NYSRPA) v. Bruen, with arguments scheduled for next month. As appeals court judges, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett each issued dissents that would have struck down firearms regulations routinely held to be constitutional by other courts. Now these two are part of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which suggests that it is possible, even likely, that the court's ruling in Bruen will significantly expand the scope of the Second Amendment.
If the court holds that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to carry a firearm in public, governmental restrictions on carrying firearms in places like churches, schools, and grocery stores may later be found unconstitutional. Notably, these are all places that have been locations of gruesome mass shootings in recent years.
Some argue that the best solution to a gunfight in a bar is more guns. More reasonable minds agree that guns and alcohol aren't a good match. The obvious danger the "guns everywhere" position ignores is how easily carrying a firearm for self-defense slips into using a gun offensively. Perhaps the shooters at the Seventh Street Truck Park imagined themselves to be good guys with a gun, carrying and bearing their firearms in the name of self-defense.
But now one person is dead, 14 people are injured, and many more will suffer trauma from living through an active shooting. In addition, Oct. 10, wasn't just St. Paul's turn for a mass shooting. The Gun Violence Archive reports mass shootings occurred that day in Delaware, Iowa, Illinois and South Carolina.
This country full of gun violence doesn't feel free, and the wrong decision in Bruen will cost us even more lives. Let's hope the Supreme Court gets this right, and continues to recognize that reasonable public safety regulations are essential when interpreting the Second Amendment.
Megan Walsh, of Edina, is an attorney.