There was one of those wildly unexpected moments in the state Capitol back room Monday.
About 14 members of Protect Minnesota, an organization calling for more gun control regulations, gathered to discuss strategy for getting legislative support for getting guns away from domestic abusers.
During the meeting, the name Tony Cornish came up.
That Cornish, the gun-toting Republican rep from Good Thunder, supports a gun control bill makes it highly probable that the bill will become Minnesota law before the session ends.
“He is the gatekeeper,’’ said Rep. Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park), of Cornish, the GOP’s pivotal voice on gun-related issues.
Even conservative Wisconsin passed similar bill
It is Schoen, a cop by trade, who deserves considerable credit for putting together an unlikely alliance. Before putting the bill before committee, Schoen contacted the National Rifle Association. He brought Cornish into the discussion. He listened to the gun crowd’s concerns, made minor language adjustments, and then pressed forward.
On the surface, this is a common-sense bill that will allow the state to take guns — including rifles and shotguns — from convicted stalkers and abusers. It also will prevent someone subject to an order for protection from possessing a gun.
“I look at it, first and foremost, as a domestic violence bill,’’ Schoen said.
The House is expected to vote in favor of the bill on Tuesday, at which time the Senate will take up a similar bill. Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) is leading the charge in the Senate.
It can’t be stated often enough that there’s nothing radical about this bill. Even the uber-conservative Wisconsin legislature passed similar law this year.
Trust a cop, instead of a foe
Still, any time the word “gun” appears in any piece of legislation, emotions tend to turn red hot and hearing rooms fill up.
Last year, for example, efforts to broaden background checks on those purchasing guns at gun shows turned into a frenzy. That bill, which polling has repeatedly shown has the large support of most people, was smashed.
“It’s a very different year,’’ said Rep. Michael Paymar, who pushed hard to get a the background check bill onto the floor last session. “The acrimony of last year doesn’t seem to exist.’’
In part, that’s because it’s Schoen, not Paymar, carrying the bill. Paymar — because of his long efforts to establish tougher gun restrictions in the state — was seen as the enemy by the 2nd Amendment crowd.
But Schoen? He’s a cop. And not one of those elitists chiefs, either. (The organizations representing police chiefs typically support tighter gun-control measures.) Scoen’s a patrolman, meaning he has the trust of people such as Cornish.
NRA’s up-close-and-ugly view
There are other factors at work in all of this.
The law mostly mirrors federal law that’s been around for decades. The problem is, the state’s criminal justice system, from cops to prosecutors to courts, find it almost impossible to apply federal law to most abuse cases.
The NRA, which historically had opposed even a measure such as this, has turned mute on the deadly combination of guns and domestic abuse.
A recent Huffington Post article gives a couple of reasons for the NRA’s silence.
For starters, a year ago the NRA had an up-close-and-ugly view of the issue. One of its own leaders, Richard D’Alauro, was accused of abuse by his wife. A New York judge ordered that the 39 guns D’Alauro kept in the family home be removed.
Ultimately, D’Alauro pleaded to a lesser charge of harassment. He no longer works for the NRA. But, obviously, even the NRA was sheepish about this incident.
Beyond that, the Post piece pointed out that the NRA is trying mightily to attract more women to the organization. Standing up for the rights of domestic abusers isn’t exactly going to draw women to the NRA flock.
So the organization has been quiet in Wisconsin and Minnesota. There have been no threats to lawmakers that a vote in support of this bill will draw the organization’s ire.
A fan favorite draws critics
Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t critics. Even Cornish has been criticized by some who usually are his greatest fans.
“I’m hearing it from some of the far right, strict Constitutionalists,’’ Cornish said. “I’m trying to explain to them that it may be admirable to stand in the middle of the tracks with your finger up trying to stop the train, but maybe it’s wiser to at least try to change the direction of the train.’’
By that Cornish means that Schoen has listened to some of his concerns and has proved willing to make some language changes that don’t appear to alter the bill’s intent.
Finally there is this: When guns are available, domestic violence can quickly turn deadly.
St. Paul city attorney Sara Grewing was among those who testified at hearings about the tragic combination. Domestic abuse victims are six times more likely to be killed if there’s a gun in the home, she told legislators.
According to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, there were 37 domestic violence killings in the state in 2013, 17 of those by firearms. The killings run through all areas of the state, crossing all demographic lines.
Heather Martens, president of Protect Minnesota, said because domestic violence touches people of all places and classes, unusual alliances can be built.
“This (domestic violence) changes the whole conversation about guns,’’ said Martens. “This is something very real and personal. It’s not the intellectual argument that often takes place when guns are the issue.’’
Schoen hopes this bill can become a symbol of what is possible.
“I’d like this to be a signal to Minnesotans that we can work on legislation that can be volatile but do it in a civil way,’’ he said. “I hope this shows we can listen to each other.’’