Packing Legal Heat In Minnesota

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - April 11, 2007

Entering an Irish bar in downtown Minneapolis on a cold, rainy March day, I found myself taken aback by a sign on the door that read: “The Local bans guns on the premises.”

Entering my hotel, the revolving door read: “The Millenium Hotel bans guns on these premises.” Or a bookstore: “Barnes and Noble bans guns on the premises.”

Huh? Minnesota allows folks to pack heat in public places? The home of the Democratic-Farm Labor Party, of liberal heroes Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale - a state that was deep blue a generation before being blue defined anything in the nation’s political landscape - sold its soul to the National Rifle Association?

Believe it. My second day in town, the headline on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune‘s lead story read: “Gun-carry law hasn’t produced more crime.” The subhead continued: “Additional licensed handguns have neither increased nor decreased violent crime in Minnesota, a state report shows.”

According to Star-Tribune reporter Conrad de Fiebre, “Tens of thousands more Minnesotans licensed to carry handguns in public haven’t turned the state into the Wild West shootout that gun-control advocates warned of.”

“There!” you can hear the NRA tribe shouting.

“But,” continues de Fiebre, “they also have not done much to curb violent crime, a benefit that many gun-rights proponents predicted when the state’s permitting law was liberalized.

“Between 2002, the year before the law was changed, and 2005, the most recent year for which state figures are available, Minnesota’s violent crime rose 13 percent.”

So a revolver in your hip pocket will keep you out of most joints in Minnesota, and it won’t deter crime. Neither, apparently, will it result in a rash of street-corner shoot-outs.

Still, there’s a heavy dose of frontier barbarism in widespread, easily licensed piston-packin’. Minneapolis-St. Paul isn’t, after all, Dodge City. It boasts the Guthrie Theatre, now housed in a beautiful new building on the banks of the Mississippi River but long known as one of the great regional theatres in the nation.

In Minneapolis-St. Paul, it seems there’s another theatre, amateur or professional, on every other corner. Plus the fine Minneapolis Orchestra. And in downtown St. Paul, the Fitzgerald Theatre from which, much of the year, Garrison Keillor sends out via public radio a level of wit, wisdom, and culture - high, low, and middlebrow - on A Prairie Home Companion matched by few on either coast.

So why the guns? I learned why in the Minneapolis Convention Center, where I attended the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. We historians - hundreds of us - overly-made-up of white- haired, white-bearded, white males (see picture at top of this column), listened to our younger colleagues discourse on their research. We did this for four days.

Down the hall - for four days - several thousands of Minnesotans (with probably more than a few attendees from Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa as well) plunked down $10 to tour the exhibits at the 75th annual Northwest Outdoor Expo.

Hunting lodges and tour guides were there. So too were fishing gear companies and boat builders and outboard engine manufacturers. I couldn’t find any gun manufacturers on the list of exhibitors, but just as sure there weren’t a dozen among the historians with an NRA membership card in their wallets, neither were there a dozen at the Northwest Outdoor Exhibit who carried a Brady Handgun Control card in theirs.

The National Rifle Association is so potent that Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry pussy-footed around them throughout election years 2000 and 2004, respectively. Both knew better; both were likely to support stricter gun controls; both received few gun-toters’votes.

Still, they didn’t confront the issue. Why? Because they needed Minnesota and Michigan and every other hunting-and-fishing outdoor state where the NRA is strong.

Simple as that.

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