From the Star Tribune - Minneapolis MN
Gun-carry law hasn't produced more crime
Additional licensed handguns have neither increased nor decreased violent crime in Minnesota, a state report shows.
By Conrad deFiebre, Star Tribune
Tens of thousands more Minnesotans licensed to carry handguns in public haven't turned the state into the Wild West shootout that gun-control advocates warned of. But they also have not done much to curb violent crime, a benefit that many gun-rights proponents predicted when the state's permitting law was liberalized.
Between 2002, the year before the law was changed, and 2005, the most recent year for which state figures are available, Minnesota's violent crime rose 13 percent.
The 174 crimes committed by permit holders, according to a recent state report, represent only a tiny fraction of the surge, which experts say owes more to demographic trends and gangs.
Only 23 of the crimes by permit holders involved a pistol.
Meanwhile, the single "lawful and justifiable" use of a firearm reported among Minnesota's 42,189 permit holders over the past four years did not involve self-defense or efforts to stop a crime, but rather a Wabasha County man who drew complaints about target shooting near someone's property but faced no charges.
"There was an awful lot of hype on both sides before the law passed," said state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion. "It just hasn't materialized. I never believed there'd be a decrease in crime because people carry guns."
Sheriffs, who are issuing hundreds of new handgun permits each month, agree that the law's impact on public safety, which ignited intense debate for years leading up to its passage, has been negligible.
"Except for one domestic assault, we've had no incidents either way," said Dakota County Sheriff Don Gudmundson, an early critic of the law.
He offered a possible explanation: As gun owners become more experienced, they carry their weapons less often. "They're too hot, too cold, too heavy," he said. "Most off-duty cops are not armed."
But some Minnesotans are toting guns -- and firing them. The state Department of Health has recorded a sharp rise in injuries and deaths from assaults with firearms since 2003. In the five years before that, such casualties averaged 172 a year in Minnesota. In the next three years, the average was 327, capped by a record 395 in 2005.
Much of the bloodshed has centered in Hennepin County, where the one murder by a Minnesota permit holder occurred outside a Minneapolis bar in 2005. Zachary Ourada of Minneapolis shot Billy Walsh, a bar bouncer, four times in the back after Walsh ejected Ourada from Nye's Polonaise Room for being a drunken nuisance. Ourada is serving 36 years in prison.
The vast majority of permit holders are not causing such tragedies, proponents of the new law point out.
"Permit holders really are very safe people," said Michael Martin, a Woodbury software business executive who holds a handgun permit and teaches firearms courses on the side. "They are more likely to avoid dangerous situations and walk away from trouble. But I'm pleased that the law does allow me to defend myself."
Cause and effect?
For decades before 2003, many Minnesota police chiefs and sheriffs used their discretion to keep a tight clamp on the number of permits they issued. In the Twin Cities area especially, most applicants had to show an occupational hazard to become licensed, such as private security work or carrying large amounts of cash.
At the end of 2002, about 12,000 Minnesotans held handgun permits, most of them outside the metro area. The Personal Protection Act of 2003 changed that. It guarantees access to a handgun permit to any adult who pays a $100 fee, gets prescribed training and passes a background check.
Gun-control advocates see links between more gun permits and rising violence.
"Buying and carrying more handguns does not improve public safety, and it weakens civil society," said Heather Martens, president of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota.
Gun-rights champions see things differently. "There's really no connection," said Joe Olson, president of the Gun Owners' Civil Rights Alliance and chief drafter of the 2003 law. "Violent crime tracks with the numbers of males 18 to 26. We're having a bump in that group at this time."
State Demographer Tom Gillaspy confirmed that there are more Minnesotans of crime-prone age than a few years ago, but not enough to account for all of the increased violence. "You could probably explain away a couple percentage points," he said.
One percent of adult Minnesotans now have permits. Olson speculated that criminal behavior might be affected once 2 percent are licensed.
Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, chief sponsor of the Personal Protection Act, said that in other states where similar laws have reduced crime, "when it starts to come down, it stays down." Meanwhile, she blamed double-digit percentage rises in the use of guns in murders, robberies and assaults since 2003 on "people who have guns illegally."
Unlikely to commit crimes
No Minnesota permit holder has ever been convicted of robbery. And a Star Tribune comparison of overall crime statistics and state reports of convictions of permit holders indicates that their likelihood of committing an assault is about 17 times less than the general population's, 12 times less for drunken driving and 31 times less for drug crimes.
Besides the murder of Billy Walsh, a state report lists 22 other crimes in which permit holders used their guns, including two convictions of criminal sexual conduct, two assaults, two domestic assaults and four cases of harassment, threats, disorderly conduct or stalking.
Those convicted of serious crimes usually lose their permits; state records show that 24 were revoked last year for reasons ranging from mental health commitment to criminal convictions to gang membership. And 177 applicants were denied permits in 2006, mostly because they posed danger to themselves or others.
Meanwhile, 9,064 permits were issued statewide in 2006; sheriffs say the rate of applications hasn't slowed this year.
More than two-thirds of all denials have come in Ramsey County. Sheriff Bob Fletcher has assigned a deputy full time to investigating applicants with any record of mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse or scrapes with the law. But that and other permitting expenses have cost taxpayers $200,000 more than the fees collected.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek supports the Personal Protection Act, saying it improved on the former law by increasing the minimum age for a permit to 21, requiring training and providing more fees to finance background checks.
"It took away some local control," he said, adding that the worst predictions of gun-control advocates "just didn't turn out that way."
Conrad deFiebre â€¢ 651-222-1673