Vin Suprynowicz

The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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THE LAST GUN STORE IN MINNEAPOLIS

Since 1995, Mark Koscielski has been co-owner of the one remaining gun shop in Minneapolis.

On May 19, the city government would like to make that “zero” gun shops.

“They say it’s a matter of the public’s health, safety, and welfare” Mark Koscielski told me last week. “Past mayor Sharon Sayles Belton said, ‘If there’s no gun shops there won’t be any guns.’ ”

That makes Ms. Belton -- now a senior fellow in race relations at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs -- wrong on two counts.

As the case of Washington, D.C. proves, once it becomes impossible to legally buy a gun within a certain jurisdiction, the police and the other drug-carrying gangs (see Det. George Young’s April 3 letter to the Review-Journal) become increasingly well-armed; it’s only the law-abiding residents caught in the crossfire who have no recourse to self-defense.

Net result? As John Lott proved in his exhaustive study “More Guns, Less Crime” (University of Chicago Press, 1998). the murder and armed robbery rates in “gun-free” jurisdictions skyrocket, or remain high while counties that “allow” citizens to carry weapons see their violent crime rates drop.

(The crime rate in Vermont, where anyone can carry a concealed weapon without a “permit,” is unusually low.)

And as he and others have since demonstrated, that’s not just here in the United States, but in Britain and Australia as well.

But Ms. Belton’s second and largest error lies in the notion that the “public health and safety” are improved when the government police have guns but the average citizen does not.

Ask the residents of Poland in the 1940s -- or Laos in the 1970s -- how that works out.

And to think we’re talking about Minnesota, where -- in the town of Northfield -- the reign of terror of the post-Civil War James and Younger gangs was brought to a sudden end on Sept. 7, 1876, by townsfolk using loaded rifles handed out by the proprietor of the local hardware store (without a background check.)

The Minneapolis city fathers moved to effectively outlaw gun stores in their city -- by making it illegal to site a store within 500 feet of a church, a school or day care center, a park, or a library, or within 250 feet of any residence -- in 1995.

Mark Koscielski outsmarted them, managing to open his store at its original location just days before the law went into effect, which meant he was “grandfathered in.”

But the energy and deviousness of the hoplophobes are not to be underestimated.

Koscielski contends his previous landlord became the beneficiary of $1.2 million in “Neighborhood Revitalization Program” money “to plant some trees and put in some new lights, but one of the council members of that ward wrote in a newsletter that one of the conditions was that he was not to renew the lease of the gun shop, so we have this in black and white.”

In 2002, Koscielski moved to his new location, which is not in compliance with the restrictive zoning law. Earlier this month, the city sent Koscielski an order telling him to cease operating the gun shop on the 2900 block of Chicago Avenue South by April 18, because it is out of compliance with the zoning codes.

Thursday’s hearing is before the local Board of Adjustments, “which is a couple of Council members and a bunch of so-called ordinary citizens, and you can plead your case with them,” he explained to me. “If they can feel your pain then they will side with you and that will be it. If they tell us we have to shut down, then we can appeal to the 13-member City Council, all of whom are Democrats. Then they will make a decision which will no doubt be that we have to get out of town. Then we can go to court and begin the lengthy process.”

The last time Koscielski went to court on the matter, “They pulled this rabbit out of the hat on us and the judge; they came up with this list of 183 places where supposedly we could have a gun shop. One was the county jail. They gave us this list a year prior to our move; we went out and photographed these addresses, they were the county jail, a loading dock, the medical examiner’s office, and so forth.”

Koscielski says one of the addresses turned out to be the offices of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The city has since given him three legitimate addresses to which he could relocate, Koscielski admits, “but they didn’t come up with those until three or four months after we’d moved.”

And he’s not relocating to one of those sites because ... it would be too financially prohibitive?

“Big time. I think that ran me around 18 grand to move a mile-and-a-half to this location, just for signs and to beef up security and so forth. ...

“They claim this is for the public’s health, safety and welfare. They seem to think if I was 499 feet from a library, people would come buy a gun and go shoot up the library. But if I was 501 feet from a library, people are going to say, ‘Oh, he’s 501 feet from a library, now I can’t go shoot anyone there.’ It’s totally asinine. ...

“At the old shop what happened is for about three years there they opened up a day care center with the city’s blessing right next door to my gun shop. They said, ‘It’s OK for a day care center to move in next to you, but you can’t move in next to a day care center.’ So go figure.”

Koscielski says when the controversy first erupted the sheriff told his men not to patronize Koscielski’s Guns and Ammo. But over the years, many have come in “because their duty gun, maybe the rear sight is out of adjustment, so instead of sending it in for repair and being without it for weeks, they know they can come here and probably 9 out of 10 times I can fix the gun in five minutes, and most of the time we don’t charge for things like that.”

But if he’s not wanted, why not just cave in and move out to the suburbs, I asked.

“Over my dead body. Why should I leave my home town? Everything I do here is legal. God knows the ATF is in here every year, checking me out. I grew up here. Where my shop is now, this is my old neighborhood. I’ve been here since 1954. Sears & Roebuck used to sell handguns here; I can recall at least six other neighborhood gun shops on the South Side, when I was growing up as a kid. It was only in the mid ’80s they began to be harassed out of business.”

Mark Koscielski’s Web site is at http://www.creditcardshotgun.com.

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