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Weapon Background Check Debate Heats Up

April 7, 2009

St. Paul, MN – From Binghamton, New York, to Oakland, California, the recent rash of deadly shootings that has made headlines across the country also has 'fired up' the public debate over access to firearms.

According to Heather Martens, executive director of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, the best way to avoid such tragedies is to keep deadly weapons out of the wrong hands. She points out, however, that gun laws have been weakened over the years, which she says contributes to the problem.

"It's not as though we don't know what to do - we do. We know that background checks work, and we know that background checks are not conducted in about 40 percent of gun sales in this country."

In some states, including Minnesota, the background-check requirement applies only to licensed gun dealers, so weapons can be sold at gun shows and elsewhere with few questions asked. Some believe tighter regulations will erode Americans' Second Amendment rights. Martens insists they will not, citing Supreme Court decisions that have upheld the rights of individuals to own firearms. The court also has said it is not an unlimited right, she notes – there can be conditions.

"Most people recognize that rights come with responsibilities. One of those is to make sure that dangerous people don't get dangerous weapons -and if people are selling weapons to felons, they should be held accountable."

Martens says the background-check issue should not be considered "pro-gun" or "anti-gun." Instead, she sees it as a matter of public safety and common sense. Background checks also have been proven effective, she adds, stopping more than 1.5 million firearms sales to disqualified people since the mid-1990s.

A bill to close the state's background-check "loophole" is pending in the Minnesota Legislature.

Jim Wishner, Public News Service - MN