Opinions vary widely on how to control guns, if at all

Last week's shootings in Connecticut immediately rekindled the debate over what, if anything, should change with the nation's gun laws.

President Barack Obama is calling for a reinstatement of the ban on what some gun control supporters call "assault weapons." The National Rifle Association will host a news conference Friday, where it promises "meaningful contributions" to help avoid a repeat of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.

MPR News wanted to hear opinions from Minnesota gun owners and dozens responded to a query from the Public Insight Network.

The poll is unscientific and the opinions reflected are from a self-selected group. Nearly all who responded to the questionnaire indicate they hunt but the similarities end there, and the respondents vary in their range of political views.

Richard Unger, 55, of Montevideo, Minn, said he is fairly liberal and not a member of the NRA. Unger has a permit to carry a pistol and says most gun laws, such as background checks, are useless.

"I think the first step should be to look at how to prevent people who we don't want or who should not have firearms from getting them."

"You could have a background check to buy matches and a gallon of gas too. I don't think they do anything beyond give us a lot of paperwork and cause a lot of hard feelings," Unger said.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers perform an instant background check on every potential buyer. But that does not apply to private sellers, including many people who sell firearms at gun shows.

Attorney Timothy Sullivan, 29, of White Bear Lake, said it might be time to tighten up background checks. He opposes any sort of national gun registry or any limits on the kinds of guns people may own.

"Instead of limiting everybody's rights, trying to limit everybody from having firearms, I think the first step should be to look at how to prevent people who we don't want or who should not have firearms from getting them," said Sullivan, also an NRA member.

President Obama wants to reinstate the ban on so-called "assault weapons," which expired in 2004 after a decade on the books. This idea is unpopular among the 50 or so Minnesota gun enthusiasts we heard from, many of whom say "assault weapon" is a politically-loaded and poorly-defined term.

Retired journalist Dave Matheny, 76, said any new ban could lead to even tighter restrictions in the future.

"What will happen next I fear is that some such new ban will be passed and there'll be another horrible shooting possibly involving high-capacity magazines and then the anti-gun people will say 'see it didn't work, and now we've got to outlaw all of them, take them away from everybody,'" Matheny said.

Respondent Vera of Blackduck, who asked that MPR News use only her first name, said she owns rifles and a shotgun but favors strict limits on guns and that high-capacity ammunition magazines should be prohibited.

"They're not necessary for hunting, they're not necessary for self defense, they're just plain dangerous, Vera said.

Another issue to resurface since the Sandy Hook killings is whether to allow teachers to carry guns in school. Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish said he plans to introduce legislation to allow just that.

Some respondents say if teachers can be trusted with children they can be trusted with a loaded gun. But Scott Southworth, 55, of Holyoke in northeastern Minnesota is unsure if arming teachers is the answer. He said if teachers carry guns to class, they would have to be as well trained as police officers, and that's not practical, he said.

"For a teacher to be proficient at using a handgun at close range like that, I don't think they'd have the commitment to put in the training necessary," Southworth said. "I would support maybe legislation and funding for armed security officers in each school."

Southworth hunts, has a permit to carry and belongs to the NRA. HE said there is an obvious problem with violence in American society, but like many gun owners in Minnesota, he says there needs to be a productive dialogue about balancing individual rights and public safety.

This story was produced with the help of the Public Insight Network. To become a source for Minnesota Public Radio, sign up at mprnews.org/insight.