Rep. Michael Paymar, who became the most passionate voice for stricter gun control measures in Minnesota, announced Wednesday morning that he will not run for re-election next fall.
Paymar, a nine-term DFLer from St. Paul, is the chairman of the Public Safety Finance Committee. It was in that role that he headed contentious hearings earlier this year on a bill that would have increased background checks on those seeking to purchase guns.
The hearings attracted overflow turnouts of both those advocating stricter gun measures and those opposing stricter controls. Many of the foes of Paymar’s efforts came to the hearings carrying weapons.
Although Paymar was able to get a watered-down version of his bill through his committee, in the end he was blocked by DFL House leadership from getting even that bill to the floor for debate. The bill would have faced universal opposition from the Republican minority, but it also faced stiff opposition from rural DFLers.
Paymar expressed his frustration over the process in a post-session op-ed piece in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
“It is not surprising the public is cynical about politicians and political parties,” Paymar wrote. “Every year, 12,000 people die from firearm homicides and 18,000 more from firearm suicides and yet our elected officials continue to abdicate their responsibilities.”
But in a conversation with MinnPost this morning, Paymar made it clear that it was not frustration of advancing the gun bill that led to his decision not to run again.
“If anything,’’ he said, “it was because of that [the gun issue] that I nearly decided to run again.”
In his final year in office, he said, he will continue to promote stricter gun control on a couple of fronts.
First, as a member of special legislative committee on security at the state Capitol, he will push for a gun ban in the building, a move that is sure to stir the passions of the pro-gun crowd.
Second, he’ll re-introduce his strong bill calling for stricter background checks. He’s pretty sure that bill won’t go anywhere, “but it’s important to keep talking about the issue.
Patience is a virtue in the Legislature, he said, where issues that are highly controversial today become law in the future.
Paymar cited an example of how times change.
For instance, he noted that in his term in the House, then-Speaker Steve Svigguum led passage of a state Defense of Marriage Act, restricting marriage to a man and a woman. Paymar said he was one of 19 members of the House to vote in opposition. In the last session, of course, the Legislature passed a law allowing same-sex couples to marry.
“Certain issues take time,” Paymar said, adding that he believes the time will come when legislatures will move toward stricter gun-control measures.
Paymar has been a steady advocate of bills aimed at preventing domestic violence and sex trafficking.
Outside the Capitol, he’s written two books on issues surrounding domestic violence, and a third book will be published this spring.
Paymar intends to devote even more of his time to that issue when he leaves the Legislature. He has started a nonprofit, Education for Critical Thinking, which is focused on gender-based violence. That organization produced a critically praised documentary “With Impunity: Men and Gender.”
He intends to involve himself in the issue of domestic violence both nationally and internationally in coming years.
“I’m not just the gun guy,” he said.