Ellison invites slain businessman's son to State of the Union speech

Keith Ellison
In this photo taken Jan. 16, 2013, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Ellison on Thursday night hosted a community forum in Minneapolis on gun violence. Ellison has championed a resolution calling for a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as a requirement that all gun buyers pass criminal background checks.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The son of a Minneapolis business owner who was killed in a mass workplace shooting last year has been invited to attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union address.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison announced the invitation at a forum on gun violence Thursday night in Minneapolis. Attending the forum was Sami Rahamim, whose father Reuven Rahamim was killed in September during a workplace shooting at Accent Signage in Minneapolis. Six people died from that day's shooting. Ellison announced he was inviting Rahamim to be his guest at the U.S. House chamber during the address on Feb. 12.

The forum drew both advocates and opponents of gun control.

Minneapolis Democrat Ellison has championed a resolution calling for a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as a requirement that all gun buyers pass criminal background checks. Ellison admitted during the forum that he was not impartial on the issue, but he said all views were welcome.

"I want to end gun violence. So, as your member of Congress, I'm not here as a judge to weigh both sides of something. I'm here to organize, advocate, for how we, yes preserve the right to own a gun. Nobody's trying to stop that," Ellison said. "But in the greatest country in the history of the world, can we do anything to safeguard our neighbors, our friends, our families, our children, our parents and protect them from the scourge of gun violence."

Sami Rahamim, Reuven Rahamim
Reuven Rahamim, right, appears with his son, Sami Rahamim, in this undated family photo. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison has invited Sami Rahamim as his guest to attend the State of the Union address given by President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 12.
Photo courtesy of the Rahamim family

Many of the 150 or so attendees did contribute civilly to the discussion.

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One was Riley Johnson, a computer engineer who lives in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. Johnson said new gun control laws were being pushed too quickly following recent mass shootings.

"Any firearms expert that you talk to will tell you that there are millions of hunting rifles that are equally as deadly as the weapons that are quote-unquote assault weapons that are looked at being banned," Johnson said. "If those bans pass, those same people will be back the next day and say these hunting weapons are just as deadly, we need them off the streets, too."

But Jonathan Eisenberg of Minnetonka argued that the government has always put some limits on all constitutional rights.

"Yes there's a right to bear arms in the Constitution, it's in the Second Amendment, we all know that. That's not an absolute right, it's never been an absolute right," Eisenberg said. "The other rights we have in the Constitution are not absolute rights. The First Amendment rights are not absolute; freedom of speech is not absolute."

Hopkins resident Bryan Bjornson argued that criminals will still be able to obtain weapons if more gun control regulations are passed.

"The important point that I want to make is that no matter what laws you pass about gun control, it won't work. Criminals do not obey laws," Bjornson said. "You can pass all the gun laws you want, they are not going to work. Criminals will not obey them."

Following the forum, Jim Welna of Edina said he is optimistic that progress can be made against gun violence.

"I think this was one of the best community meetings I've been to in many, many years," Welna said. "The congressman really laid the foundation for a very robust complete discussion, and people had such heartfelt comments on a range of sides of the issues everybody trying to bring us to the same point which is how can we improve the lives for our children, our most valuable asset."

Sue Abderholden of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the speakers on the panel, said mental health treatment needs to be more readily available.

"We're worried that the focus again will be strictly on gun control and see how far a net we can throw out there to try to find -- basically it's a needle in a haystack," Abderholden said. "It's very difficult to predict who will be violent, and if we go so far and further stigmatize people, then we're kind of defeating the purpose in many ways."