On Eve of Franken Visit, Dakota County Sheriff Calls for Ban on Assault Weapons

Also, Sen. Al Franken will be at Eagan's Dakota Hills Middle School on Monday to discuss school safety in the wake of the massacre at a Newtown, CT elementary school.

Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows said today that he supports a ban on the sale of high-capacity assault weapons.

"I believe in the second amendment,” Bellows told Patch this morning, three weeks to the day after the Newtown, Conn., massacre in which 20 children were killed. “I’ve signed, over the years, 9,000 permits to carry" firearms.

“But does the second amendment extend all the way to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines?" Bellows asked. "I don’t think it does.” 

On a separate but related note, Sen. Al Franken announced Friday that he will be at Eagan's Dakota Hills Middle School on Monday to meet "with several Minnesota educators, child advocates, and school-safety officials to discuss ongoing efforts to improve school safety."

Are People with Mental Health Problems Acquiring Guns?

In recent weeks, Bellows has expressed concern about another gun-safety issue—that Minnesota's permit-to-carry law may be allowing some people with serious mental health issues to acquire firearms. Franken has invited Bellows to discuss a partnership between the state's mental health and criminal justice systems. 

Franken is convening a meeting in St. Paul on Saturday on the issue. About 15 to 20 officials and activists, including Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and representatives from the Minnesota Crisis Intervention Team are expected to attend.

“We already had this scheduled before the shooting, so it was something we were already planning to do, but now it’s taken on a different context,” said Marc Kimball, a Franken communications aide.

Bellows said he will be unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict but that he hopes to participate in future discussions.

“Fifteen to 20 percent of the population suffers from some form of mental health issues and five, six, seven percent suffers from serious mental health issues,” he said Friday. “If you look at the number we reject, which is about 1 percent, I get concerned we’re missing people who have mental health issues and should not have access to a weapon.”

Bellows said that the permit process successfully identifies applicants who have gone through the courts’ mental health system but that there is a blind spot when it comes to aspiring gun owners with serious mental health problems that have been treated in private practice.

He said that for those cases, public safety needs to trump privacy rights. 

“The issue is the people who have mental health issues that have not come into the purview of the courts and have been treated privately and now they’re out requesting a permit to carry,” he said. “We really want to be careful about people who should have permits to carry.”

Dakota County Crisis Response Unit Supervisor Brian McGlinn said that since Newtown, he hasn’t seen an uptick in phone calls from citizens concerned about people with mental health issues carrying firearms.

“We work very closely with law enforcement,” he said. McGlinn’s response unit has partnered with Eagan police in providing a “crisis stabilization unit” that works with families with underlying mental health issues.

Gun Permits on the Rise

Bellows emphasized that an assault weapon ban is completely separate in his mind from the mental health issue.

Gun ownership has been suring locally; Dakota County processed 2,814 gun permits in 2012, a more than 65 percent increase over the previous year.

“We handled a couple hundred alone in the weeks after the Newtown incident,” Bellows said.


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