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Kevin Woster

Kevin Woster

The firearms at our house are back in the gun safe where they belong, locked up and secure from hands that shouldn’t touch them.

I forget sometimes and leave them out down in my basement “outdoor room.” I shouldn’t. We have grandkids around, after all, and their friends.

That thought went through my mind — and was crystal clear on my wife’s face — as we sat across the table from each other at the library the other morning during an organizational meeting of Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

I was there because Mary asked me to be, because one of our neighbors was the organizer, and because I’m a gun owner and a journalist. The meeting was about life-and-death stuff involving guns.

When our neighbor mentioned the need to secure guns in our homes and vehicles, I blanched. Because at that moment I knew two of my guns were not where they belonged, in the safe. They were sitting out, waiting to be cleaned and put away. I’ve taken care of that.

I’ve also pondered a more complicated safety issue brought up during the meeting: red-flag laws. Such laws have been passed in 16 states and are being discussed in others. Basically they allow judges to order the seizure of guns from people believed to pose a threat to themselves or others.

The laws are popular with Moms Demand Action, a relatively new group here in Rapid City but with a more established presence East River. The South Dakota Chapter leader is Shannon Hoime, a pediatrician in Sioux Falls who got involved in the gun-safety issue because of jarring statistics from real-life tragedies.

“Based on CDC statistics from 2017, South Dakota is seventh in the nation in suicides, and firearms are the most common means people use,” Hoime said.

In South Dakota suicide is the second-leading cause of death in age groups from children to 44-year-old adults.

“My take is anytime we’re facing statistics like that we should use any and all available tools we have to help save lives,” Hoime said.

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But she knows the idea of a red-flag law is a delicate matter in a state that loves guns and hates restrictions. She also believes gun safety and gun rights are compatible.

“I think the knee-jerk response is that any gun safety law will trample on Second Amendment rights,” she says. “But we can definitely respect the Second Amendment and still pass laws that improve public safety.”

Is a red-flag law needed here? I asked Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, Rapid City Police Captain John Olson and Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead. They think current laws and procedures work pretty well in protecting the public.

They said officers who are better trained each year in crisis intervention sometimes take guns from someone caught up in an emotional crisis. But typically the subject gives up the weapons voluntarily, often with the involvement of family. A court order is otherwise needed in most instances, usually tied to a temporary protection order issued by a judge.

The three lawmen doubt a red-flag bill would be warmly received by most state legislators.

“I’d be very surprised if our Legislature would go in that direction,” Milstead said.

I’d be surprised, too. And Hoime understands the tough odds. She just can’t forget the awful statistics.

“This is really such a public health problem that I think they (state legislators) need to look at ways to honor the Second Amendment but also improve the safety of our families and communities,” she said.

It's probably something we should at least talk about, maybe even in the Capitol.

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Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing kevinwoster@rushmore.com.

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