Politics versus reality

Conflicting political positions on gun control and criminality make Minnesotans less safe.

Cognitive dissonance is a concept marked by an uneasy tension people feel when there is a conflict between what they believe and how they act on those beliefs. Doublethink is a similar concept, except that people experiencing doublethink have no such “uneasy tension” brought on by a conflict between beliefs and actions.  

Whether they feel the “uneasy tension” or not, progressives who support lax prosecution or reduction in penalties for gun-related crimes conflict with their stated belief that guns are the cause of our violence.  

The Minnesota Legislature is now in session, and several DFL-sponsored bills are claiming to address the issue of gun violence by restricting styles of guns, magazine capacity, and the ways guns must be stored, among other things.  

The importance lies in what these bills don’t do, however: sending strong messages to criminal offenders who choose to carry a firearm or use a gun to commit a crime. The DFL approach is directed at guns rather than criminal offenders. This makes as much sense as combating drunk driving by restricting cars rather than strictly enforcing DUI laws.  

Supposedly, a bill is being considered by the DFL that would reduce the penalty for felons found to be in possession of a firearm. The impetus for this bill is the misguided belief on behalf of progressives that enforcement of the felon-in-possession law is creating “disparities” in the criminal justice system because of the high percentage of gun offenders who are black. Thankfully the bill has not yet surfaced, but it signals the disconnect many on the left have over a proper response to gun violence.  

Legal gun ownership  

Of course, a rational examination of our state’s violence problem would not conclude that guns by themselves, let alone legal gun ownership, are a root cause of criminal violence. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Permit to Carry Annual Report illustrates this point. 

In 2022, just one percent of the 419,000 Minnesotans with a permit to carry a firearm committed any type of crime, and only three percent of those crimes involved a firearm.  

Legal gun possession is not a root cause of criminal violence — a breakdown in our cultural mores is, along with progressive policies designed to minimize penalties for crime, even gun-related crime. 

Low-hanging fruit  

Minnesota policymakers are serious about illegal gun possession and associated gun violence, or they are not. Until the state is willing to address the persistent danger of criminals using guns to commit crimes, it is abhorrent to consider further restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens. People prohibited by law from possessing firearms should be terrified of the consequences of possessing a firearm. They aren’t, and law-abiding Minnesotans are paying the price. Why? Because progressive criminal justice policies have sent the wrong message by purposefully reducing the number of criminals who serve time in prison or on supervision. As recently as 2021, Minnesota’s incarceration rate was the third lowest in the nation, and just last year the Legislature capped the maximum amount of supervised probation to five years for a criminal spared prison time. Couple these policies with persistent anti-police rhetoric, and the message projected to criminals is clear: there’s little to fear after committing a crime in Minnesota.  

Data collected by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC) helps illustrate this specific to gun crimes.  

According to the MSGC data, in 2023 there was a record number of cases (1,805) of an offense committed with a firearm, up from 1,587 in 2022 and 636 just 15 years earlier. The chart reflects the number of crimes involving a firearm as reported by county attorneys across the state from 2008 to 2023.  

Despite this rise in the use of firearms during the commission of a crime, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence, only 30 percent (545) ended up with a conviction and a mandatory minimum sentence as the Legislature intended. Forty-eight percent of these cases were either not charged, dismissed, or the mandatory minimum sentence was waived. 

What works?  

During the summer of 2018, 175 police chiefs, sheriffs, and federal law enforcement executives met in Washington, D.C. as part of a Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) effort to find solutions to gun violence in the U.S.  

They noted that the number of guns in the country had doubled since 1968, and “that is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.” Rather than focus energy on legal gun ownership, the effort developed several recommendations designed to reduce gun violence in the United States.  

The number one recommendation coming from these law enforcement experts was for swift and certain punishment for the illegal possession of firearms — noting this approach could reduce gun violence without the need for new laws.  

Illegal possession and use of firearms are non-partisan issues and should be easy for both sides to condemn. If we’re serious about reducing violence, then we need to start by enforcing the laws already in place and hold those who use a gun in the commission of a crime accountable for their actions.  

Such inconsistency and misguided focus cause considerable frustration for Minnesotans, particularly conservatives, who have no conflict with the commonsense approach of holding criminals accountable.