Crime, Law and Justice

As St. Paul preps new gun security law, mayor’s father's story a cautionary tale

This August 25, 2011 photo shows the sky
An upcoming St. Paul proposal calls for firearms to be locked to prevent their use and stored away from ammunition.
Karen Bleier | AFP | Getty Images 2011

It was a warm Wednesday evening at the start of the pandemic; the weather was nice enough that Matthew Till’s neighbors were having a cookout in their yard on Charles Avenue.  

And then the gunfight started.   

A car sped away, shots ringing out behind it. Bullets flew down the street. One hit the sidewalk in front of Till’s house, then went through his living room window. Just past Till’s then-7-year-old daughter as she was putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  

“So she was kneeling at the coffee table, versus if she had been standing up, it would have been inches rather than feet from her,” said Till. The family later found a spent bullet sitting on a shelf in their living room.  

St. Paul police didn’t catch the shooter in that April 2020 incident, but two years later they found the gun stashed under a car seat during a drug arrest on the city’s East Side.

Federal authorities linked casings from the stolen .380 caliber Glock to at least three other shooting incidents, including a 15-year-old shot in the face near downtown St. Paul in 2021. 

With the St. Paul City Council set to vote May 17 on a new firearms security ordinance backed by Mayor Melvin Carter, the Glock’s trail of trauma offers a cautionary tale of the perils of stolen firearms and the need to keep them secure. In this case, the Glock was stolen from Melvin Carter Jr., a retired St. Paul police officer and the mayor’s father. 

“It's a complete devastation. It's a jarring experience,” the elder Carter said in an interview of the pain caused by his stolen weapon. “You know, I've dedicated my whole life to prevent that. My life has been dedicated, devoted and determined to prevent this very thing. So, this is personal. It's intimate. It's painful.”  

The St. Paul proposal calls for firearms to be locked to prevent their use and stored away from ammunition.

The mayor declined an interview regarding his firearms safety initiative or whether the proposed ordinance would have made a difference in his own family’s situation. His office issued a statement on the need for the measure and the importance of safely storing guns. Two handguns were stolen from the younger Carter’s home in 2017. 

‘Thought it was secure’ 

The history of Melvin Carter Jr.’s stolen Glock is laid out in an internal St. Paul Police Department memo obtained by MPR News and provided to both Carters. It includes a synopsis of four shooting incidents in St. Paul linked to the same gun by federal forensic examinations of shell casings recovered by police. 

Besides the gunfire outside Till’s house in April 2020 and the 2021 shooting of the 15-year-old, department investigators said they found bullet casings following gunfire in St. Paul’s Payne-Phalen neighborhood in April 2021 traceable to the Glock.

The weapon was tied to gunfire in the city’s Frogtown section in March 2020 that penetrated a house and landed in the room of a sleeping 14-year-old. The cases went unsolved. 

The elder Carter also had a gun stolen in 2019 when a thief swiped his keys left on a gym shelf, then opened Carter’s vehicle and took his gun. That weapon has not been recovered, nor has a gun he reported losing in 2011 after putting it on his car in a St. Paul alley and driving away.  

Carter confirmed that he remains eligible to carry a firearm in public under state law that allows police agencies to qualify their former sworn officers to carry a gun.  

He said he believes ready access to a firearm has made a life-and-death difference for himself and the public he has served. He added that given his training as a police officer, people have been safer when he is armed.

He expressed remorse about the damage others have done with his missing gun.   

“My apologies to the city. My apologies to the family and my prayers or that I would do better,” Carter said. “I've learned from this, you know, as a person who considered myself a highly trained professional with a weapon, I always was haughty and overconfident in my gun safety practices, evidently, gave myself too much credit …[I] thought it was secure in times that it must not have been.”   

Mayor Carter had two guns, secured in a locked box and placed in a duffel bag, stolen from his home in the 2017 burglary. The thief was arrested and sent to prison. Neither of those guns, which Carter said he had received from his father, have been recovered, according to police.  

“Stolen guns play an outsized role in violent crime across our nation,” Carter’s office said in a statement. “While shaming victims of theft is not the answer, our safe storage proposal is about setting a clear expectation for legal gun owners to do everything they can to help keep firearms from falling into the wrong hands.”  

‘A lot of frustration’

Gun rights advocates are skeptical of the St. Paul plan, noting that while the city’s lock and storage requirement could thwart unintentional or unauthorized use, it doesn’t require weapons to be protected from unauthorized access or theft.  

Rob Doar, vice president of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, says the mayor’s initiative, given his own missing weapons, is hypocritical. He also contends state statute doesn’t permit cities to pass such regulations and that it isn’t likely to work anyway. “My gut is that they don’t actually plan on enforcing this,” he said. “It’s for the headlines.”  

Whether people in St. Paul will comply remains to be seen. A nationally representative survey in 2019 by APM Research Lab, a sister organization of MPR News, found most people who own guns or live with a gun owner store their guns locked, but about 1 in 5 never lock their guns.

The nonpartisan survey, though, found widespread support for mandating locked gun storage, including among gun owners and Republicans.

Research shows safe storage does reduce accidental discharges and thefts.

David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and an author of a 2016 study on gun thefts, said surveys showed only about 1 percent of people who said they had good firearm security reported gun thefts, compared to about 4 percent with little or no security.

“People who didn’t store their guns well were much more likely to get their guns stolen,” Hemenway said in an interview with MPR News. “Probably by fourfold.”

Matthew Till, whose house was hit by the gunfire from the elder Carter’s stolen Glock, welcomed efforts to improve firearm security and keep guns off the streets, but he called the proposed ordinance “a very small step to something — better than nothing, but I wouldn’t use the word progress.”

He said the 2020 shooting played a role in his family’s decision to move away from Charles Avenue and that he’s been taken aback by the gunfire he’s experienced since moving to St. Paul from Denver.  

“There’s a lot of frustration,” he said, “because it just seems too easy to have prevented that one, and it’s individuals with authority and power making mistakes like that.” 

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