Guns, guv candidates and unanswered questions

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
When she came up for re-election in 2010, Lori Swanson received the endorsement of the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association/Political Victory Fund.

In 2008, during her first term as Minnesota’s attorney general, Lori Swanson signed on to a brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.”

The brief to which Swanson lent her support was written by Ted Cruz, the future U.S. senator from Texas, who was then that state’s solicitor general and is now a leading hobgoblin in the eyes of liberals. It also put Swanson on the same side of the case as the National Rifle Association.

I’ve written a lot about the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court, so perhaps this is a big deal only to me, but I don’t think so. People — at least the people I talk to —  don’t know about it. I think they should.

The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, was a huge turning point in the history of the Second Amendment. It was the biggest legal breakthrough in constitutional history for turning the Second Amendment from something that applied to members of state militias to something that protected an individual’s right to own guns — and not just hunting rifles but handguns.

A lot of state attorneys general — 31 total — signed Cruz’s brief, most of them Republicans. Of the Democratic AGs who signed on, most were southerners. Swanson was one of just two Democratic attorneys general from the north to lend her name to the brief. Another amicus brief, arguing against the NRA position, was filed in the Heller case by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and signed only by several other Democratic attorneys general.

In the Heller ruling, the Supreme Court — by a 5-4 majority — declared that when the Bill of Rights framers wrote, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed…,” it didn’t mean that you had to be in a militia nor that you had to use your gun to keep your state secure.

The court’s majority opinion was written by the furthest right justice, Antonin Scalia, and all five justices who joined him in the majority were Republican appointees.

The McDonald case

That wasn’t the end of the issue, though. Because the District of Columbia, where plaintiff Dick Anthony Heller lived, was not a “state,” the matter required a second case, 2010’s McDonald v. City of Chicago, to apply the effect of the Heller decision to the states. Swanson signed on to the pro-gun amicus brief on the McDonald case too.

As I said above, I think Minnesotans should know more about the episode — about why Swanson decided to join a pro-gun Republican-dominated amicus brief on behalf of her state — which is why I left word with her office that I wanted to ask her about it; I said I would wait two days to hear back. It’s been more than two days, but if Swanson decides to call, I will gladly hear her out and pass along what she has to say.  

When she came up for re-election in 2010, Swanson received the endorsement of the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association/Political Victory Fund, which explicitly thanked her for her support on those landmark Supreme Court cases and gave her an “A+” rating. In 2014, when she came up for a third term as AG, the Minnesota Gun Owners PAC endorsed her, saying she had been “a steadfast supporter of the constitutional rights of Minnesota’s gun owners as attorney general.”

In her current situation, running for the DFL nomination for governor, the approval of gun rights groups could be seen as a political liability, and in an email to the group Protect Minnesota — which supports stricter gun laws — Swanson pointed out she has “never taken a penny from the NRA.”

Maybe so. But the NRA liked her work enough to give it an “A+” grade and its endorsement. She never rejected that endorsement, and she has not, to my knowledge, ever publicly discussed what led her to throw her weight behind the pro-gun position in the Heller and McDonald cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Walz’s NRA financial support

Since I can’t ask her, I will assume that the “never taken a penny” line is supposed to differentiate her from U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, one of Swanson’s chief competitors for the DFL gubernatorial nomination. Walz never endorsed the NRA’s position in a Supreme Court brief, but he did accept financial support from the NRA and benefited from the NRA endorsement while running for the U.S. House in the relatively rural — and pro-Second Amendment — First Congressional District, facts that are inconvenient now that he is running statewide in what appears to be a highly competitive three-way DFL primary for governor.

Walz has addressed the issue by suggesting that some of his views on gun issues have changed, and that the NRA may not be as happy with some of the changes — an evolution that Sam Brodey and Brianna Bierschbach explained in detail in a MinnPost piece from late 2017.

Murphy has a simpler story

The third DFL candidate for governor, the DFL-endorsed Rep. Erin Murphy, has a simpler story to tell about guns. She has never supported the NRA, and the NRA has never given her a penny nor an endorsement. In an interview with WCCO’s Esme Murphy in March, Murphy said “I’m happy to say that they [the NRA] have given me an ‘F’ and I’ve never taken their money.”

Some DFL strategists, who worry about electability in November in a general election (a contest in which rural voters and swing voters and moderate pro-gun voters may be in play), might be nervous about facing the broader electorate with a candidate who has never even flirted with gun rights. But in explaining her position, Murphy certainly had a easier task than her primary opponents.

“Folks have always known where I stand on gun violence, and as governor, I will keep fighting to keep our communities and kids safe,” she told MPR. “It means background checks on all guns – no exceptions, prohibiting the sale of military-style assault weapons, restrictions on high-capacity magazines, and lifting the ban on research of gun violence as a public health issue.”

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Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by John Webster on 07/31/2018 - 01:56 pm.

    Get Detailed

    Erin Murphy may have a simpler story on gun issues. But can she please have a detailed story about how her proposed single-state, single-payer health plan would be paid for? So far on this issue she has adopted a Pawlenty style strategy: lots of airy generalizations and platitudes that appeal to the party base, but no solid details.

    • Submitted by Tim Smith on 07/31/2018 - 02:42 pm.

      She can’t

      give the obvious answer because when voters find out the truth she wil be rejected soundly.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 08/01/2018 - 10:44 am.

      Details make for bad politics

      It has (unfortunately) been proven repeatedly that the candidate that goes into details on policy is the candidate who loses the election. Voters don’t have the patience to listen to details. Stick to empty slogans and you win.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 08/01/2018 - 12:51 pm.

      It is a fundamental Issue that has nothing to do with the article save the public health issues overlapping the 2nd Amendment issues (people have a right not to get shot).

  2. Submitted by Syuart Orlowski on 07/31/2018 - 03:47 pm.

    Pretty Simple

    The money will come from taxes. I agree she hasn’t discussed this enough, but its laid out in bills like the Minnesota Health Plan. It would be a progressive tax where people might pay $5,000 more in taxes but won’t have to pay $7,000 in premiums, deductibles and copays (for example). All evidence shows single payer healthcare systems are more efficient and will save us money.

    So the question is, are you okay with paying more in taxes but saving money overall on healthcare? I am. In addition this would give healthcare access to 350,000 Minnesotans without insurance. At least 400,000 more (like me) are health access restricted because the copays and deductibles are too high. I agree she should discuss this more though!

    • Submitted by Tim Smith on 07/31/2018 - 04:21 pm.

      single payor systems

      only work when medical providers get lower reimburement rates and the insured has fewer providers to choose from. The medical community is extremely powerful and have much influence over both parties. Good luck to you.

      The other question is how do you handle a business that has employees all over the country? Their Minnesota based employees have the state’s single payor plan and they have a separate plan for those out of state?

      • Submitted by Syuart Orlowski on 07/31/2018 - 08:53 pm.

        Single Payer works in 16 other industrialized countries

        And apparently works very well. All the data and stats says our healthcare system is not very good, much worse than single payer healthcare systems. In a study last year our healthcare system was ranked worst out of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom. And ours is by far the most expensive system in the world. I agree that it will be incredibly hard to convince the medical community to go along. Maybe we need a culture shift.

        That’s a tricky part. When I read the Minnesota Health Plan, they propose that the state (“The Minnesota Health Fund”) receives healthcare payments from the companies health plans. And the state continues to pay the providers. So it would stay as a ‘single payer’ system. It makes sense to me and I think it wouldn’t be too complicated for employers.

        • Submitted by Tim Smith on 08/01/2018 - 09:12 am.


          we all know that, but not one county, state or area within those nations didn’t go it alone while everyone else had the status quo. Liberal California even rejected it because they couldn’t get the cost down.

          • Submitted by Syuart Orlowski on 08/01/2018 - 06:36 pm.

            That’s actually how single payer started in Canada

            Single payer in Canada started in the province of Saskatchewan in 1962. It was adopted nationally by Canada 4 years later in 1966. So there is some precedent for starting single payer at a state level.

            The provincial leader who pushed single payer, Tommy Douglas, is also considered a national hero in Canada, to my knowledge.

      • Submitted by Matt Haas on 08/01/2018 - 06:59 am.


        Yes, just as now, medical insurance would continue to be state specific. I’d expect a lot of requests for transfer however. As to your other points, if the legislation were to pass, I don’t think the medical “community” would have much to say about it. Unless you assume every doctor would somehow close up shop and leave? As always, business would adapt to the new circumstances. As to choice, I’m limited to one system of hospitals and clinics now, if I’d like to avoid bankruptcy from uninsured care. How is my choice lessened?

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/01/2018 - 04:17 pm.

        Good Luck, Indeed

        Opinions of the medical community are split. According to one survey, 56% of physicians surveyed now favor single payer ( Another survey has 49% of medical care providers and 55% of clinicians in favor ( They favor single-payer even knowing that it would entail a pay cut (

        On the other hand, a quick Google search turns up an article headlined “More than 90% of Physicians Oppose Single Payer Medical Care (,” but that headline is, to put it politely, less than accurate. The article actually quotes a survey of 1208 adults “the majority of whom were physicians or other types of medical professionals” conducted by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. I would call that survey suspect. That group is, again putting it politely, rather conservative.

        We’ve come a long way from the caravan of luxury cars driven by doctors who opposed MinnesotaCare.

        • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 08/01/2018 - 09:44 pm.

          Ask Canadian doctors. They’re pretty easy to find in any American hospital.

        • Submitted by Tim Smith on 08/02/2018 - 09:00 am.

          Good points

          but I wonder where the power is? Almost all doctors work for a major health care delivery system, Fairview, Mayo,etc. Am not sure it matters what doctors are for, it’s the delivery sytems powerful upper management and stake holders who will fight tooth and nail. As I said earlier, they have a lot of influence over both parties. Time will tell.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/02/2018 - 09:25 am.

            Upper Management/Stakeholders

            Yes, they will be a problem. Interestingly, they are also the reason doctors are willing to take a pay cut for single payer. Doctors hate dealing with them, and hate following their arbitrary rules on patient care.

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 07/31/2018 - 11:11 pm.


    Rep. Murphy will give a detailed list of all the “military-style assault weapons” so we all know just what weapons will be banned. She should also provide a number for “high-capacity magazines” as in 9, 13, 15, 30 rounds. Give the exact number. And it would be really nice if she would define “gun violence” as today’s Strib called the recent shooting of an armed felon with a gun “gun violence”.

  4. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/01/2018 - 10:18 am.

    I agree…

    On your first two points. If a gun is discharged and someone dies I do not have a problem with calling that “gun violence”. The use of the term does not assign blame.

    The lasting divide is that the Erin Murphy’s of the world and even the most moderate of gun owners (me!) have this huge gulf in understanding the problem and finding a practical solution. I have over 10 guns in my safe and I find them works of fine craftsmanship, possibly like Ms. Murphy would find her grandmother’s crystal. Most of mine have fine walnut stocks and beautiful engraving and bluing. Put a plastic stock on, anodize it, skip the engraving and Ms. Murphy wants to take it from me and melt it down. I find this less than logical. I do not have an issue and support the pre-post Brady world where large capacity magazines were illegal and scarce. Put the limit at 10 rounds. The Aurora shooter with a Glock with 2- 100 round magazines hanging down like moose antlers is unneeded and a practical compromise. Gabby Gifford’s shooter was disarmed during his attempt to insert another high capacity magazine. This problem, like almost all others, can find an easy solution with 80% of voters. Of course the 10% at opposite ends will prevent anything from happening.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Weyandt on 08/01/2018 - 11:11 am.

    Swanson and the NRA

    One possible explanation for Ms. Swanson’s signing on to the two briefs in gun cases could simply be that at the time it was politically expedient to do so. Aren’t most of the things that she has done based on the political coin that can be earned from her actions? Seems to me that signing on to a lawsuit filed by others, or even signing on to the two brief’s mention, don’t really have to do with anything other that to try and earn another political stripe. She may regret today what she did those years ago as they may bite her. Then then again, if (big if) she makes it past the primary, those pro-gun positions will be seen as a positive in many households.

    Or maybe some staffer was pulling a prank and signed her on to those brief’s without her knowing.

  6. Submitted by Marcia Wattson on 08/02/2018 - 09:54 am.

    Another rationale for Swanson filing an amicus brief might be that to not take a position on an issue of such great importance would be cowardly. To take the position that the SC could simply reject the 2nd Amendment or, in its decision, totally redefine and clarify it for modern times, would be foolhardy. In any case, the Court clearly stated that the ruling did not prevent the sensible regulations that Murphy and Walz and Swanson all profess to support. For my part, any one of them would be far superior to Pawlenty or Johnson. Eric’s sniping at Swanson, and commenters sniping at each other is totally counter productive to Democratic unity. Pick your candidate and vote in the primary. Then unify your support for a Democratic victory, or throw in the towel.

    • Submitted by Ken Bearman on 08/02/2018 - 11:22 am.


      Presenting facts and history isn’t sniping. To know about them and not report would be dishonest at best.

  7. Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/02/2018 - 11:03 am.

    Simple story

    Walz and Swanson have complicated stories on guns (and other issues) because they have had to win over voters who don’t live and don’t vote like voters in Mac-Groveland. And Murphy’s simple stories that appeal to those people is why she is a very poor statewide candidate.

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