Protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens

It’s a crime for a convicted felon to possess a gun; it’s also a crime for someone to lie on a gun permit application, or to buy a gun illegally. That’s current federal law and state law. I recently signed on as co-author of SF235, a bill which assists our County Attorneys and law enforcement in prosecuting gun crimes by those who are already prohibited by law from owning or buying a gun. The bill does not restrict anyone’s Second Amendment rights, nor will I support any bill that would.

Specifically, the bill I have agreed to co-author:
• Clarifies that people who have been certified by a court of law to be mentally ill and dangerous are prohibited from buying or possessing firearms (this is already federal law, and the court records are already public).

• Prohibits convicted juvenile felons from owning or buying a gun (this also is already federal law, is already true for Minnesota adult convicted felons, and would still allow these juveniles to maintain their sealed records for other purposes).

• Defines certain felony domestic violence offences as “crimes of violence,” so that a subsequent gun violation may be prosecuted at the more serious felony level.

• Prohibits convicted felons from possessing ammunition (this is also already federal law).

• Enhances the aiding and abetting provision of state law so that a person who knowingly assists an ineligible individual in the procurement of a firearm will be criminally liable (this will be an important tool for combating gang violence).

The bill has no impact on law-abiding citizens’ Constitutional Second Amendment rights. I decided to co-sponsor SF235 because it helps everyone channel their anti-gun energies into positive and practical ways to reduce gun violence and improve public safety — without imposing on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. There is some common ground that all can agree on when it comes to addressing the issue of extreme gun violence.

Would any reasonable person take the position that felons or violent domestic abusers should have guns? Would any reasonable person work to protect the “rights” of felons and gun criminals at the expense of the victims of gun violence?
We just had a very significant case in Carver County, worthy of consideration in this discussion.

Christian Oberender was convicted as a juvenile of murdering his mother and then was found by the Court to be mentally ill and dangerous. After he was released as an adult he bought dozens of guns and hordes of ammunition — with a permit. He perjured himself on the gun permit application. The National Instant Background Check System (NICS) Index did not include the necessary records to alert law enforcement that he is disqualified by law from buying or possessing a gun.

We need to learn from this; we need to ensure that violent criminals and the mentally ill can never get their hands on a gun. Would any reasonable person argue that we are violating Oberender’s Second Amendment rights if we include his criminal background information and mental health commitment records in the NICS Index? Would any reasonable person argue against Oberender being charged and prosecuted for felony possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, or for perjury for lying on the gun permit application?

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association and the Minnesota Peace and Police Officers support this bill, and want to have a constructive dialog and adopt practical solutions.

The NRA also supports more aggressive prosecution of gun crime. Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre of the NRA testified in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 31, 2013 and made the following statement in support of more aggressive prosecution of gun crime:

“We need to enforce the thousands of gun laws that are currently on the books. Prosecuting criminals who misuse firearms works. Unfortunately we’ve seen a dramatic collapse in federal gun prosecutions in recent years. Overall in 2011, federal weapons prosecutions per capita were down 35 percent from their peak in the previous administration. That means violent felons, gang members and the mentally ill who possess firearms are not being prosecuted. And that’s unacceptable.”

In recent years our local U.S. Attorney’s Office has failed to actively prosecute gun crimes and gang activity. A Syracuse University project confirms that gun prosecutions have fallen by 40 percent since their peak at 10,937 under Bush in 2004. The Obama Administration has prosecuted only 6,000, focusing more on drug crimes than gun crimes.

We need to make sure our County Attorneys and local law enforcement in Minnesota have all the tools under state law they need to ensure that individuals who are already prohibited by federal law from owning or buying a gun know that we will hold them accountable for their criminal behavior. SF235 is one of those tools, and by supporting it, we protect both the rights and the lives of law-abiding citizens.

Julianne Ortman is the state senator representing District 34.

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