The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 16, 2013

In the gun debate, is there common ground?

(Continued)

When a felon is charged with a new crime involving firearms, the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm is often dismissed in plea agreements where people plead guilty to a more serious crime.

“A lot of gun problems come from people who shouldn’t have guns,” Miller said. “It’s really hard to keep guns out of their hands. They buy them illegally or they steal them or they get them elsewhere.

“When we arrest them for another crime and also possession of a firearm, more times than I like to count, they plea to the first crime, then the gun charge doesn’t go anywhere. We don’t get any support on the prosecution side.”

It isn’t uncommon, even if someone pleads guilty to two crimes in a plea agreement, to have the sentences for both crimes run at the same time. So dropping the charge usually doesn’t reduce any prison or jail time, said Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott.

There are other reasons the charges are dropped, too, he said. Sometimes a gun is found at a scene where there are two or more felons and they all deny having it. If there’s no DNA or fingerprints to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone had the gun, the charges are dropped because they won’t hold up at trial, McDermott said.

Common ground

Councilwoman Norland agrees that law enforcement agencies and others doing firearm background checks should have more access to mental health information. The concern about mental health and access to guns are why North Mankato now has a police officer sitting in a room near the City Council Chambers watching meetings live on a monitor, she said.

“That supports my argument again that yes there are people around our communities who haven’t been identified who are a danger,” Norland said. “When they get guns, it can be frightening. We all know people in our community who we worry about. And by ‘we’ I mean everybody, not just City Council meetings.

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