Tim Bjorkman South Dakota Democratic Candidate for Congress. (submitted photo)
I grew up around guns in rural South Dakota. I am a gun owner, an occasional hunter, and a 2nd Amendment supporter. Three of our sons served in the military and are gun enthusiasts. If anyone tried to take away a gun of mine they would have to fight me for it. As a judge I saw the effects of society’s propensity toward violence, sometimes but not always involving guns. The moment calls for honest discussion about how to prevent more senseless killings, and that discussion should take place with as little rancor and partisanship as possible.

First some facts: more people have died from gun violence since 1970 than in all American wars combined. We have far more guns and gun deaths than any other nation in the world: nearly six times the per capita rate of Canada, and nearly 16 times that of Germany.

Almost 2 in 3 of the 33,500 annual gun deaths are by suicide. Of the roughly 11,000 homicides, about half the victims are young males, and some 1,700 women are killed as the result of domestic violence. The horrendous mass shootings we have experienced have totaled about 320 deaths annually over the past 5 years – around 2% of all homicides; as an aside, about six Americans die annually at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Handguns are by far the most common weapon used in killings.

While about 90% of those who take their own lives suffer from a mental disorder, it is a much less common factor in homicides. As a judge, it became clear to me that the vast percentage of our overall crime problem, including violent crime, involved people who struggle with untreated addiction, often after experiencing a dysfunctional childhood.

Just as the types and causes of gun deaths vary, so the solutions will also be different. One thing is clear: we must learn to take better care of each other and seek to adopt policies that work for the wellbeing of ordinary Americans.

Our own Congressional delegation seems to agree, pointing to the role of mental illness; yet instead of promoting better mental healthcare, the majority in Congress has employed its efforts to reduce mental health funding, and to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, importantly, provides coverage for mental health and addiction treatment in every policy.

So, what measures are most calculated to reduce gun violence? Sadly, we have far less data on this than we should because Congress has effectively banned the Center for Disease Control [CDC] from funding research on gun violence.

I advocate these first steps:

1.      A law mandating uniform background checks on all gun sales, with free service at sheriffs’ offices for private transfers and estate transfer exemptions; and improved sharing of information among reporting sources;
2.      Prohibiting any device, such as bump stocks, that converts a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon;
3.      Prohibiting individuals on the government’s terrorist watch list from buying firearms;
4.      Encouraging states to adopt red flag laws that allow a court to temporarily remove guns from a person who poses a danger, with mandatory database reporting and removal upon clearance by a medical specialist;
5.      Promoting interventions like the Sandy Hook Promise that identify and reach out to at-risk individuals, including restorative justice and anti-bullying programs;
6.      Committing our nation to a War on Mental Illness and to ensuring every American has affordable health coverage to treat it; and
7.      Importantly, removing the ban on the CDC studying firearm violence;

I will become a target of the NRA and its enormous political action committee.  That’s okay.  The NRA, like many other special interests, tends to bully politicians, which helps explain the absence of sound reform. This is one reason I refuse to take any PAC money.

I suspect that most South Dakotans are just as sick as I am of the endless slaughter of Americans, and are also tired of special interests controlling our Congress.

Two questions lie before us: do we have the courage as a nation to defeat the powerful special interests that have thwarted reform on this and so many other issues; and what kind of America will we leave behind for our children and grandchildren?

Tim Bjorkman lives in Canistota. He is a former circuit court judge and the Democratic candidate for Congress.

SD Gun Laws -Effective Appropriate and Minimal – A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

February 10, 2017

PIERRE, SD – Gun control measures have been gaining ground in some places around the nation in recent years. In the more urban areas of the country and along the coasts, people are more wary, and perhaps fearful, of guns. That may be why some states pass very restrictive gun laws. For instance, in New Jersey a citizen cannot even own a handgun, rifle or shotgun without a permit or Firearms Purchaser Identification Card. In some states, obtaining a concealed carry permit can take months. In Maryland and California, an individual has to prove a need to be granted a concealed carry permit.

South Dakota is a state that respects the Second Amendment. A great many of our citizens own pistols, rifles and shotguns. Here, guns are as common as saddles and pickups. Many of us grew up hunting or on farms or ranches where we needed to be able to handle a gun. Most importantly, we understand that law-abiding individuals should be able to defend themselves.

As a lifetime member of the NRA, I support the right to bear arms. I own a rifle, a pistol, and more than one shotgun. I am happy to be governor of a state that still respects that right and I am proud of our current gun laws.

South Dakotans do not need a permit to purchase a firearm in our state. The firearm requirements we have in state law are few and reasonable. One such requirement is that if you want to carry a concealed pistol – under your coat, for example – you must obtain a permit. You pay $10 and undergo a background check. The background check is a safety measure to identify applicants who may not be eligible to carry a concealed weapon because they have a criminal record or a history of mental instability. Barring those few exceptions, it’s easy and cheap, and it usually takes only a few days to receive a permit. My friend Matt said he spent five minutes at the sheriff’s window, paid his $10 and three days later had his permit.

There are a number of bills being considered this legislative session that would alter our state’s common sense gun laws. A couple of those bills are deceptively labeled as “constitutional carry” bills.

House Bill 1072, for example, would eliminate the permit requirement in order to carry a concealed weapon. Under this bill, the vetting process would be removed. Individuals with a proven history of violence or substance abuse and those who have been identified as a danger to the public or to themselves could not be restricted from carrying a firearm. If this bill becomes law, it will create confusion for law enforcement who will still seek to ascertain whether an individual is lawfully concealing a weapon. Innocent citizens could be detained by law enforcement and subjected to time-consuming criminal and mental health background checks.

I am proud of South Dakota’s traditions and pro-Second  Amendment track record. Just as I do not support gun control measures, I cannot support bad legislation which would lead to a whole host of unintended consequences. The laws we currently have in place are effective, appropriate and minimal.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was an ardent defender of constitutional rights and a staunch conservative. In one of his last opinions, Scalia referenced concealed permits. He stated unequivocally that “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” and he affirmed that concealed weapons permit laws are not an affront to our Second Amendment rights.

On this issue, I’m with Justice Scalia.