“Stop me when you hear that.” That’s an opening that often leads to a joke. While elections are no laughing matter these days, the phrase is appropriate given some of the decisions we face in November’s election. At the risk of spoiling the suspense, we’ve heard this before.
Just as with other recent elections, there are a number of interrelated issues that are of great interest and importance to Minnesotans who are passionate about the outdoors. It’s the overlapping issues of regulating firearms, public lands, and funding for conservation. The two major political parties that essentially control our state government have some markedly different ideas on these issues. Ironically, a vote in support of one issue can potentially be a vote against another.
It may be oversimplifying, but for a long time it seemed that one of the major state parties — the GOP — was most inclined to limit gun rights interference for privacy reasons. Conversely, based on their campaign platform, this party may be less concerned – and possibly even hostile – in ensuring that hunters and others who value outdoor recreation have access to places to enjoy them. The other major state party – the DFL – would be more likely to impose additional restrictions on some firearms purchases but seems more inclined to support conservation or environmental measures. And therein lies a dilemma for many voters.
Firearms regulation is one of the most contentious issues in politics today. The gap between supporters and opponents has widened even further over the past quarter century. For example, Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer of the National Rifle Association (NRA), testified before Congress as early as 1999 that background checks on gun buyers even at gun shows—essentially universal background checks—would be acceptable to the organization as a step toward potentially reducing gun violence. Congress declined that invitation, and today that offer is off the table as the rift between the two sides has widened.
For its part, the Minnesota DFL’s platform supports what it calls “proper gun control that promotes public safety and crime prevention.” These could be expected to include more extensive background checks on buyers before gun purchases and a so-called “red flag” law designed to prevent gun purchases by those deemed unstable or potentially violent. The GOP platform advocates a state constitutional right to carry a firearm, fewer restrictions on concealed carrying of a firearm, and stronger protections from liability when a person uses lethal force with a firearm.
I have some good friends – target shooting friends who are also avid hunters – who subscribe to the idea of a “slope” when it comes to gun regulations. They fear that enacting almost all firearms restrictions could either result in the confiscation of their firearms or make their possession so difficult that it would amount to the same thing. I think that given our nation’s history and our sporting traditions – traditions in which firearms are an integral part – that would be highly unlikely. But I’m willing to admit that both of our positions are untested.
When it comes to nature conservation, the environment and leisure opportunities, there is a similarly stark contrast. The GOP platform broadly claims to support policies that would allow us to “enjoy and protect our natural resources.” However, some line items on its platform clearly go against that. It would create obstacles for landowners who want to sell their land for conservation purposes, such as state wildlife sanctuaries, federal waterfowl production areas, or conservation by nonprofit environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy.
Under a no net loss policy, no sale of private land for new conservation or recreation purposes would be permitted unless other publicly owned lands were reverted to private ownership. Aside from the impact of this concept on those who might benefit from additional recreational opportunities, as well as the conservation of wildlife and natural resource values in general, which legislature has the right to tell a landowner what he or she is doing with his or her own land can?
The GOP platform also advocates repealing the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to the Constitution. This change was accepted by voters in the 2008 general election, after 10 years of effort. It collects a 3/8th of 1% state sales tax to provide a stable and reliable source of funding for conservation and outdoor recreation purposes, as well as select arts and culture initiatives.
A committee made up of state legislators and citizens advises on eligible projects and expenditure from this source of income. This combination of outdoor and cultural interests was necessary to finally bring the idea “over the finish line”. Both Republicans and Democrats supported the idea. The change was not permanent, but a 25-year commitment expiring in 2034, which voters could extend at that time. But the GOP 2022 platform advocates ending the experiment 12 years early, which the Minnesota conservation and outdoor recreation community — and the DFL — don’t support.
Voting in a democracy is a heavy responsibility. No one should take lightly or neglect to obtain the facts necessary to make responsible decisions. It is made even more difficult by decisions that may conflict with one’s own interests and values. Like these.
Who said democracy was easy?
Mike Rahn, columnist