Accent Signage survivor calls for universal background checks - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Accent Signage shooting survivor calls for universal background checks

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Accent Signage shooting victim John Souter appears with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak calling for universal background checks on gun buys. Photo by Tim Blotz / FOX 9 News. Accent Signage shooting victim John Souter appears with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak calling for universal background checks on gun buys. Photo by Tim Blotz / FOX 9 News.

Accent Signage workplace shooting survivor John Souter joined Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak on Thursday to ask for Rep. Erik Paulsen's help in passing legislation requiring universal background checks on all gun sales.

"It's not about Second Amendment. It's about doing right thing to prevent this sort of violence," Souter said. "This is about common sense."

Souter joined Rybak at the Ridgedale Library in Minnetonka, which is in the Republican congressman's district, to say he was among 81 percent of constituents who support the universal background checks.

"People are making this about the Second Amendment. It's not," he argued. "It's about doing the right thing to curb this kind of violence."

Bullets punctured Souter's lung and shattered two ribs at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis on Sept. 28. He said he is still in pain, and the shooting changed him forever.

"Five of my friends and colleagues died that afternoon, and then a sixth died three weeks later at HCMC. Why?" he asked. "This isn't America."

The expansion of background checks has been at the heart of federal legislation in the Senate, but the debate has not yet reached the Republican-controlled House.

"After a deadly workplace shooting in Minneapolis, after Sandy Hook and after countless tragedies that never even make the national news, it still remains easier in America to buy a deadly weapon than to buy a Sudafed," Rybak said. "The overwhelming majority of Americans agree that this must change."

On Thursday, Paulsen released a statement saying he is meeting with stakeholders to find effective ways to reduce gun violence, including fixing holes in the existing background check system.

"Unfortunately, Rep. Erik Paulsen is still not listening to the common sense of his constituents and does not yet support universal background checks, despite the fact that one of his constituents was gravely injured in a mass shooting," Rybak said. "If Erik Paulsen doesn't support universal background checks, he's not representing this district."

A survey conducted earlier in March by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that over 80 percent of constituents in Paulsen's district support universal background checks.

"I don't know Rep. Paulsen," Souter said. "I've heard he's a good man. He and I have a difference of opinion on this issue, but I want my representative to hear my opinion as someone who has come closer to this issue than anyone should."

Souter described the violence he endured when Andrew Engeldinger walked through the business with a semi-automatic handgun as both humbling and devastating,

"As a survivor of a terrible incident of gun violence and as someone who grew up in a rural area and learned to shoot at the age of 11, I understand in a way that most people do not that Congress must pass universal background checks now," he said. "I call on Rep. Paulsen to listen to me and my fellow constituents and support them."

Engeldinger's parents told the media they were estranged from their son prior to the shooting because they attempted to persuade him to seek mental health treatment.

Chaska Police Chief Scott Knight also urged Paulsen to reconsider, saying that the vast majority of Americans are urging what rank-and-file police officers have sought for years, describing it as "insanity" when people can obtain any weapon they want without demonstrating they are legally able to possess them.

"Not checks for some guns, some people, some of the time, but checks for all guns, all people, all of the time," Knight urged. "I speak as the past president of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and the former chair of the Firearms Committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association strongly supports this position as well.

Souter was also part of a roundtable discussion during President Obama's visit to Minneapolis in February. Obama spent most of his time focusing on universal background checks, which enjoy broad support among Americans. Recent polls show 92 percent approve of such a system.

"It's been a struggle. Some days are better than others," Souter said during the president's visit. "If we don't have the moral courage to support the president of the United States, then shame on us."

During Thursday's conference, Obama sent a tweet saying that since 1968, more Americans have died from guns than in all the wars in the country's history. The message meant to apply pressure to lawmakers like Paulsen as the U.S. Senate takes the lead on the issue.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2013, which would extend the Brady Law background checks to all sales and transfers of firearms with the exception of guns given to spouses and family members.

Gun ownership groups opposed to the measure argue that such legislation is little more than restrictive registration, and they argue it would not have prevented the killing at Accent Signage Systems.

"It's clear that no background check would have made a difference in that," Andrew Rothman, of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said. "The murderer at Accent Signage did pass a background check. He went through all the required legal hoops and bought his guns and his ammunition legally."

However, Engeldinger's parents admitted their son suffered from mental illness but did not meet the requirements to be committed to a mental health facility that would have triggered a red flag on a background check.

In Minnesota, universal background checks have been met with resistance from lawmakers.

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