5:08am

Sat February 9, 2013
Reporter's Notebook

For Some In Minneapolis, National Gun Debate Hits Close To Home

Originally published on Sat February 9, 2013 12:11 pm

The shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in December revived a national debate about gun violence. It's one that is emotional and often highly personal, and it's happening in places far from the halls of Congress. Earlier this week, President Obama was in Minneapolis advocating new limits on guns; no law or set of laws, he said, can keep children completely safe. NPR's David Welna was there for the visit and sent this reporter's notebook about the voices he encountered.

In the Minnesota where I grew up, angry arguments would sometimes come to bloody blows, but seldom to bullets.

Recently, that's changed.

"There are definitely problems with guns; a lot of stolen guns end up in the hands of kids in the community," North Minneapolis resident Dale Hume said outside the police building where the president spoke. A big sign next to him read: "Congress: Protect our children, not the NRA."

I asked Hume, a local pastor, whether gun violence was as bad as in the mid-'90s, when this city was known as "MURDERapolis."

"It's better now, but it's still bad," he said. "[But] then when you know some of the people that get shot and killed, then it's different ... then it doesn't seem to be going away."

Hume said one of the kids in his youth group was shot and murdered across the street from his church, St. Olaf Lutheran.

At the Obama event, Leigh Ann Block of St. Paul told me she got restraining orders eight years ago against her ex-husband that kept him from buying a gun. But he borrowed a 9 mm pistol from a friend and then took their daughter for an outing.

"He rented a car, drove to a rural road in Wisconsin, waited for my daughter to fall asleep, and then he shot her in the head and shot himself," she said, choking back tears. "She was only 5."

Block said that up until now she couldn't speak about guns or even listen to talk about them. Every time somebody would mention a gun she would cry, she said.

"I still think about my daughter," she said, "and right now I am here for the cause of trying to promote safety. I can't save my daughter, but I want to speak on behalf of other people who are going through situations that [we] went through."

The next day at the state Capitol, 17-year-old Sami Rahamim spoke at a hearing on gun control. He described how his father and five others were murdered last fall at a Minneapolis sign company. The dismissed employee used a Glock semiautomatic pistol. Later, I asked Rahamim whether he'd ever thought before about limiting guns.

"No, the gun issue wasn't something that had quite crossed my desk yet until it touched me in such a personal way that I absolutely had to get involved," he said.

At the same hearing, I talked with Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish, who calls himself "an unapologetic member of the NRA" and proudly wore a lapel pin of an AK-47.

"I have like 47 firearms at home; I'm proud of each one of them [and] I use them correctly," he said. "It's just a sporting rifle; I hunt with it. It's legal for deer, and so I figured why not wear it. Why be frightened to wear a gun just because it's used in crime? There's a lot of guns used in crimes."

Even in Minnesota.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The political storm over gun violence shows no sign of tapering. It's a debate that's emotional and often highly personal and not just in the halls of Congress. Earlier this week, President Obama was in Minneapolis advocating new limits on guns. No law or set of laws, he said, can keep children completely safe.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But if there's even one thing we can do, if there's just one life we can save, we've got an obligation to try.

SIMON: NPR's David Welna covered the president's visit to Minnesota. But as he tells us in this reporter's notebook, most memorable about the trip back to his home state were the people engaged in the gun debate there.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: In the Minnesota where I grew up, angry arguments would sometimes come to bloody blows but seldom to bullets. That's changed.

PASTOR DALE HUME: There are definitely problems with guns; a lot of stolen guns end up in the hands of kids in the community.

WELNA: Outside the North Minneapolis police building where President Obama spoke, the temperature was in the single digits. Dale Hume, a neighborhood resident, stood out there next to a big sign reading: Congress: Protect our children, not the NRA. I asked him whether gun violence was as bad as it was in the mid-'90s, when this city was known as Murderapolis.

HUME: It was probably worse in the Murderapolis days. It's better now, but it's still bad, yeah. And then when you, you know, when you know some of the people that get shot and killed, then it's different. You know, then it doesn't seem to be going away.

WELNA: Do you know anyone who was shot and killed?

HUME: Yeah. I'm a local pastor and one of the kids in our youth group was shot and murdered.

WELNA: Hume said the teenager was killed across the street from his church, St. Olaf Lutheran. At the Obama event, Leigh Ann Block of St. Paul sat waiting to hear the president. She told me she got restraining orders eight years ago against her ex-husband that kept him from buying a gun. But he borrowed a nine-millimeter pistol from a friend and then took the daughter for an outing.

LEIGH ANN BLOCK: He rented a car, drove to a rural road in Wisconsin, waited for my daughter to fall asleep, and then he shot her in the head and shot himself. And she was only five, so.

WELNA: Block had not spoken about this before in public.

BLOCK: Before, I couldn't even speak about guns. Every time somebody would mention a gun I would cry. And I still think about my daughter, and right now I am here for the cause of trying to promote safety. And I can't save my daughter, but I want to speak on behalf of other people who are going through situations that her and I went through.

WELNA: The next day at the state capitol, 17-year-old Sami Rahamim spoke at a hearing on gun control.

SAMI RAHAMIM: The gun used to kill my father and five other fathers...

WELNA: He described how his father and five others were murdered last fall at a Minneapolis sign company by a dismissed employee firing a Glock semiautomatic pistol. Later, I asked Sami whether he'd ever thought before about limiting guns.

RAHAMIM: No, the gun issue wasn't something that had quite crossed my desk yet until it touched me in such a personal way that I absolutely had to get involved.

WELNA: At the same hearing, I talked with Republican State Representative Tony Cornish, clearly a gun defender. Is that an AK-47 that you have on your lapel?

STATE REPRESENTATIVE TONY CORNISH: Yes, it is.

WELNA: And why do you display that?

CORNISH: Well, I think it's - I'm an unapologetic member of the NRA. And I have, like, 47 firearms at home. I'm proud of each one of them. I use them correctly. And it's just a sporting rifle. I hunt with it. It's legal for deer, and so I figured why not wear it? Why, you know, be frightened to wear a gun just because it's used in crime? There's a lot of guns used in crimes.

WELNA: Even in Minnesota. David Welna, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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