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Gun Sides Take Aim at Rights, Responsibilities

June 8, 2009

St. Paul, Minn. – For handgun safety advocates, this year's state legislative session has had its hits and misses, so to speak. To Heather Martens, executive director of Citizens for a Safer Minnesota, the good news has been the strong support for plugging a loophole that could help prevent such incidents as the Virginia Tech massacre.

"The great advancement for responsible gun ownership was that there was a bill signed by the governor, that would prevent people who are disqualified from owning a gun for mental health reasons, from buying a gun."

According to Martens, the law requires state courts to disclose, for federal firearm background checks, information that a person is prohibited from ownership because of mental disability. Until now, courts in Minnesota and other states weren't transferring this data to a federal database.

She is concerned, however, that gun safety advocates could not manage to close the so-called "gun show loophole," which allows those who sell handguns at gun shows to do so without requiring a background check of the purchaser.

Martens' frustration, she says, is that the debate is often tied to whether there are, or are not, firearms restrictions - as if there's no middle ground.

"There is a perception that there are either gun rights or no gun rights, when actually most people believe that, yes, there are rights to own guns, but with those rights come responsibilities."

Very few want unrestricted ownership, she adds, and both sides want some safety requirements. Overall, though, Martens feels too many people on both sides of the argument are afraid to moderate their positions for fear of losing their rights. In fact, she says, they have the most important thing in common - everyone wants to stop gun injuries and deaths. That's the goal her group is working toward, she says.

Jim Wishner, Public News Service - MN