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Gun rights supporters confront Rep. Nolan at Duluth meeting

DULUTH — U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan encountered a small collection of gun rights advocates on the sidewalk as he arrived at the Holiday Inn in downtown Duluth on Thursday morning to talk about his first three months back in Congress after a 32-year hiatus.

The protesters waved signs proclaiming “Guns stop violence” and “Don’t tread on me.”

Nolan, a Democrat representing Minnesota’s 8th District, stopped to hear his critics before stepping inside the hotel, where he would be the featured guest at a public forum organized by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

Several demonstrators followed in his wake.

The forum covered a wide range of topics, but Nolan was asked repeatedly to articulate his views on gun control.

Nolan said he’s not surprised at the national focus on the subject.

“There’s understandably a great deal of concern about gun violence, and we’ve seen too many instances like in Newtown and Aurora,” he said, referring to mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado.

Nolan said the national debate swirls around a central question: “Is there something that we can do here to help curb violence that involves guns, and at the same time preserve and protect what is clearly established as the Second Amendment right for people to own and possess a firearm?”

While the resulting debate has been contentious, Nolan says some common ground is emerging.

“The one area that I’m finding a tremendous amount of agreement on is the need for improved mental health services,” he said.

Nolan stressed that only a small percentage of people dealing with mental health issues resort to gun violence, but when they do, the results can be tragic.

Nolan also suggested that a more comprehensive review of would-be gun buyers could be useful.

“Perhaps there are some ways we can strengthen the whole background check system. But as one of the people I met with outside said: The devil is in the details.

“So we’ve got to see what Congress is going to come up with here,” he said. “But I am convinced that one area where there’s a lot of agreement is that we can do a lot of work to improve mental health services, and that will help curb violence of any sort and help everybody become more productive and be a better person and a bit more of a contributing member of society.”

Tony Sheda, a gun rights demonstrator from Wrenshall, referred to Nolan’s earlier gun control comments as “innocuous” before asking a more pointed question.

“I’m a member of the NRA (National Rifle Association), my wife is a member of the NRA, and my son is a member of the NRA. So we are the NRA. And the NRA gives you an ‘F’ rating. I was just wondering why, because all you spoke about up there was mental health,” Sheda said. “But there has to be a reason the NRA would give you an ‘F’ rating.”

Nolan questioned the NRA’s assessment, noting: “The NRA has also said that Rick Nolan wants to take everybody’s guns away. Now, why they would say that is beyond me, because that’s just not the case.

“I have indicated in the past that I will consider gun safety legislation, and they find that objectionable. I’ve made it clear that I support Second Amendment rights. I’m a hunter and a sportsman. I’m not going to vote to take anyone’s guns away. But that doesn’t mean we can’t all get together in a room and look at some measures to bring about better, more effective gun safety,” he said.

Nolan warned against the dangers of an all-or-nothing approach to interpreting the Constitution.

“You know we have a First Amendment right called the right of free speech, but you can’t go into a crowded theater in the dark and yell, ‘Fire!’ We also have a freedom of assembly. But you can’t assemble in a way that restricts or prohibits people from getting to their home or to their work.

“And we’ve always had restrictions on guns. You can’t have an automatic machine gun. People can’t have rocket-propelled grenade launchers,” Nolan said. “At the time of the Second Amendment when we were talking about the right to bear arms, that was a musket with one ball in it.”

He suggested that if the nation takes a rigid approach to dealing with evolving problems, it does so at significant risk.

“The man who wrote the Bill of Rights, Thomas Jefferson, I remind you, said, among other things, that he was not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and institutions. But he said as new technologies unfold, as new discoveries are made, as the human condition changes, as the human mind progresses then so, too, must our laws and institutions. To do otherwise would be to remain forever cloaked in the clothes of our barbarous ancestors.”

Article written by Peter Passi of Forum News Service,

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