Why gun-rights advocates may — or may not — be really ticked at Republican lawmakers in Minnesota

MinnPost file photo by Jim Walsh
A scene from the 2013 Minnesota Weapons Collectors Association show at RiverCentre in St. Paul.

Earlier this year, when the Minnesota legislative session ended, some of Minnesota’s most fierce gun rights advocates were not happy. Or at least it seemed that way.

“Stabbed in the back,” “betrayed,” and “ deceived,’’ were just a few of the words showing up on gun rights websites.

The displeasure was focused on the fate of two measures that had been floated at the Legislature. One would have exempted “qualified” Minnesotans from having to take a gun-training class and apply to a local law enforcement office for a right to carry permit.

The other bill was a bigger deal. It would have expanded the state’s “stand your ground” laws so that a person would no longer have to retreat or sound a warning before firing a gun at someone they believed posed an imminent threat to their safety. 

In the wake of Republicans taking control of both the House and Senate after the 2016 election — victories gun-rights groups believed they had a hand in securing — those were the two big issues those groups expected to see addressed.

But then, well, nothing. Though the House passed the stand-your-ground bill out of committee, the Senate did not, and there were no floor votes on either measure.

And so, in the weeks and months that followed, some gun-rights advocates vowed that there would be consequences. “Make no mistake about it, Minnesota Gun Rights will be more than happy to take a political 2 x 4 to ANY politician who stands in the way of our 2nd Amendment Rights,” Ben Dorr, the political director of an outfit called Minnesota Gun Rights, wrote on his organization’s website.

But rather than an example of a grassroots uprising over a passionate constituency’s core beliefs, the episode might be more aptly seen as a lesson in the weird, confusing and often cynical machinations involved in interest group politics in Minnesota, especially around the always potent and often polarizing issue of guns.

Lawmakers, guns and money

Let’s just stipulate that almost nothing is more important to any special-interest group —  left, right or middle — than being angry at something. Without perceived threats, without anger, there can be no call to mobilize. Without mobilization, there can be no power — and no revenue. Environmental groups, pro-business groups, and gun groups of all stripes all use scare tactics to raise money.

The gun-rights lobby is well versed in such tactics, of course. And among gun-rights organizations in Minnesota, a group called Minnesota Gun Rights is almost always loudest and most extreme in its rhetoric, claiming to be “the North Star’s No Compromise Gun Group.’’

For all that, though, Minnesota Gun Rights is also seen as the sketchiest gun-rights organization. Despite its claims about being able to mobilize “thousands” of Minnesotans on behalf of the causes it champions, there’s little evidence that it could ever do so.

Chris Dorr
Chris Dorr

Its political director, Chris Dorr, has worked for Republican pols in Iowa, and the group’s underlying purpose might be best summed up in one of the messages on the group’s website. First, there was a call for pro-gun Minnesotans  to express their anger at state legislators. Then came this request: “When you’re done, please send an emergency contribution to support MN Gun Rights to help run our critical programs.’’  (Efforts to reach Dorr via both phone and email were unsuccessful.)

Veteran legislators have seen this move before. In fact, in 2015, 16 Minnesota legislators — 11 Republicans and 5 DFLers — wrote a letter warning their constituents that Minnesota Gun Rights was less a political organization than a money-raising scheme. “Don’t be fooled by the fake out-of-state MN Gun Rights,’’ the letter stated.

Trying to ‘run away’ from gun issues?

And yet, just because Minnesota Gun Rights has shaky credentials doesn’t mean everything is sunny between GOP lawmakers and gun-rights advocates in Minnesota.

Given the Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, there were high expectations among gun advocates going into the 2017 session.

Now, in the wake of their disappointment over the lack of movement, there still are strong words and political threats in the air. In fact, Rob Doar, political director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, says there are number of people ready to line up to run against legislators who didn’t  push hard enough to move the two pieces of legislation gun groups wanted. “I tell you this, actions speak louder than words,’’ said Doar. “We’re tired of words.’’

State Rep. Jim Nash
State Rep. Jim Nash

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, has become a go-to guy when it comes to carrying gun legislation in St. Paul. “I’ve been a very vocal supporter of the Second Amendment all my life,’’ he said, adding that he supports “all the amendments’’ with equal vigor.

Nash says he understands why some gun people are upset with Republican lawmakers. “I’d say the Second Amendment people were looking forward to the session,’’ Nash said. “I can’t speak for the caucus, but I believe these are important discussions to have and some [Republican lawmakers] are trying to run away from them.’’

But Nash also said that Republicans in the House shouldn’t be the targets of gun-owner contempt. The problem, he said, is in the Senate, where Republicans made it clear they weren’t going to deal with any gun legislation this year.

Indeed, much of the anger among gun-rights people is focused on GOP Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove. As chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy committee, he made no effort to push “constitutional carry” or “stand your ground” bills through the process.

Yet Limmer, a consistently conservative legislator, says there was a good reason for that. “Why would we waste time doing that when we have a governor who veto the bills?’’ he said.  

Limmer noted that for all the attention they get, the people angry at him represent a small segment of the state’s gun owners. In fact, the two major gun groups in the state —  the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance — have both endorsed Limmer for years.

‘Lots of politics’

The debate over who did and didn’t fight hard enough for the two bills raises another issue, though, one that is bound to be part of the 2018 campaign season: whether some gun-rights groups ever will believe they’re protected enough.

Prior to 2003, permits to carry handguns were tightly controlled as county sheriffs could use their “discretion” as to which applicants needed a permit. That flipped in 2003 when Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law a bill that required sheriffs to issue permits assuming applicants passed a uniform set of requirements.

State Sen. Warren Limmer

Now more than 275,000 people in Minnesota have permits to carry, and civilians are free, among other things, to march into legislative hearings armed with a gun.

With a gubernatorial election, as well as state House races, just around the corner, the politics of guns will be in play, even if it’s unclear whether that will means efforts to expand “constitutional carry” and “stand your ground” — or something else.

Sen. Ron Latz, a DFLer from St. Louis Park who’s a longtime nemesis to the pro-gun crowd, knows that the gun groups will be pushing for more next year.

“Hopefully, Chair Limmer will continue to understand that those hearings would only be incredibly divisive and would not be supported by a majority of Minnesotans,’’ Latz wrote in an email response to questions about what lies ahead in the unending gun debate. “But understand that the Republican constituency that votes in primaries is their main concern and they are different kinds of folks. They [Republicans] would also be looking for ‘gotcha’ votes and on Democrats in rural districts.”

In other words, he continued: “Lots of politics here.’’ 

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 09/07/2017 - 01:47 pm.

    Is it going to take someone getting shot in the capitol?

    Maybe someone will have to killed by a gun nut whose gun is legal right up until he pulls the trigger. There’s no reason for guns in the capitol except to intimidate or kill.

    • Submitted by Dale Lawrence on 09/08/2017 - 05:37 pm.

      Who are the gun nuts? Those who are “nuts” about guns are those who disregard that they are simply a tool that can be used for “good” (self defense) or “evil” (murder and mayhem) just like any other tool or weapon. By them selves they are a lump of metal and plastic. The “nuts” are the people who are fearful of the inanimate object.

      • Submitted by ian wade on 09/09/2017 - 08:51 pm.

        Yes, who ARE the gun nuts?

        The “nuts” who are fearful of an inanimate object, or the “nuts” that are so fearful of society that they can’t go to Target without being armed? I’ve owned and shot for over thirty years, and I’ve never felt that I had to sling a weapon over my shoulder in public. A responsible gun owner should know better.

  2. Submitted by Kathleen Vanderwall on 09/07/2017 - 04:53 pm.

    Gun “rights” legislation

    Perhaps Minnesota Republican legislators failed to pass “permitless carry” and “stand your ground” legislation this year because they’ve finally noticed that the vast majority of their constituents want their rights to safety from gun violence respected.

    Citizen groups working to promote sensible gun safety laws, including Minnesota Moms Demand Action, the group to which I belong, have become more and more present and vocal each year. The 2018 session will be no different. We will be at every hearing of a gun bill. We will insure that that voters are informed about which legislators are listening to their constituents and promoting gun safety, and which are influenced by the gun lobby.

    Legislators should worry less about Minnesota Gun Rights’ “political 2 X 4”, and much more about an informed electorate tired of endless news reports of gun violence, lock-down drills in elementary schools, and the continual loss of young lives to suicide and accidental shooting.

    • Submitted by Bryan Strawser on 09/07/2017 - 11:54 pm.

      Political organizations affiliated with “Moms Demand Action”, such as Everytown and their affiliated PAC – along with their allies in Americans for Responsible Solutions, spent more than $880,000 across several races in 2016 and won…. two seats, neither of which was decided based on the gun rights / gun control argument (one of these two races had zero gun rights investment).

      Gun rights groups spent 12x less and won all but one seat where funds were invested – and more than 88% of endorsed pro-second amendment candidates won their races.

      I doubt the Republican legislature was concerned about the alleged political power of a small group that has proven across two election cycles that their message does not resonate in a state where more than 50% of the population is a law-abiding gun owner.

      All that said, I’m all for laws that respect the Second Amendment and work to further reduce acts of violence in Minnesota – which like the rest of the country is down significantly over the past twenty-five years.

      However, I haven’t seen your organization push for any such law, which is truly quite unfortunate.

    • Submitted by Dale Lawrence on 09/08/2017 - 05:52 pm.

      gun violence

      Kathleen, please expand on what “gun violence” is. A gun is an inanimate object. By itself it can do nothing. Perhaps I have missed where your organization has backed and promoted rehabilitation for violent criminals or increased penalties for repeat violent offenders. what about self defense classes, maybe your organization has started those? No, perhaps you don’t really care about violence. Regarding “gun safety” has your organization started training classes to teach people how to safely handle a gun? Do you take people to the range and teach them the rules of gun safety? Use all the focus group tested buzz words and phrases you want, anyone who is paying attention knows you are an anti self-defense group.

  3. Submitted by Kevin Vick on 09/07/2017 - 05:25 pm.

    Facts vs. Agenda

    Doug Grow says, “Now more than 275,000 people in Minnesota have permits to carry, and civilians are free, among other things, to march into legislative hearings armed with a gun.” Doug, marching or not, there have been zero incidences reported by law enforcement regarding permit carriers at the Capitol Complex. Zero. Ever.

    New York billionaire funded anti-gun group, Mom’s Demand Action stamp their feet and cry “epidemic” when the facts are permits to carry in Minnesota have soared and Minnesota’s overall crime rate is at a 50 year low, with over a 3% drop in the most serious crimes. (MN BCA) Facts vs. agenda.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/08/2017 - 10:04 am.


      Your insinuation is that the rise in permit holders is correlated with the drop in crime. Nice try.

      The drop in crime across the US is directly correlated with the phase out of leaded gasoline. This has happened all over the world. When lead gas has been banned, there has been a reduction in crime right about 21 – 22 years later. This has held true every where leaded gas has been banned, and the start of those bans have not been concurrent, but a various times.

      To suggest permit holders are responsible for the drop in crime is dead wrong. The crime wave peaked in the early 90’s in the US, and fell from there. Not due to the broken windows theory. Not due to community policing. Not die to harsher sentences. When Doris Day urged my Dad to see the USA in his Chevrolet, he was planting the seeds for the crime wave that came years later.

      • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 09/08/2017 - 04:46 pm.

        No Such Claim

        I’m stating facts only, Permit Holders have increased significantly while crime has dropped precipitously. Neither fact supports the claims made by anti-gun groups that there is an increasing “epidemic” of gun deaths. The exact opposite is true.

      • Submitted by Dale Lawrence on 09/08/2017 - 05:30 pm.

        facts matter

        Frank, perhaps you are confused about correlation and causation. The rise in concealed carry does correlate with the drop in crime. No one has said we can claim causation since so many factors go into crime rates. It is worth noting since, every time there is a debate about relaxing restrictions regulating the best tool for self defense, the anti self defense crowd claims there will be blood in the streets. Sure looks like they are wrong at this point. It is interesting to note that after the “shall issue” law change in 2003, the homicide rate in Minnesota started dropping faster than the national average. Feel free to draw there own conclusions about why.

  4. Submitted by richard owens on 09/08/2017 - 03:03 pm.

    Leaded gasoline and Chevrolets

    I think it was Dinah Shore (who looks like Doris Day) that was promoting that 23 cent a gallon leaded gas.

    As for wedge issues like the supposed “Constitutionally guaranteed right to wield lethal force”, I have one suggestion that did not come from ALEC, but might save some lives:

    Let the vehicle license indicate to law enforcement whether or not its owner is a concealed carry permit holder or a felon. In the case of Philando, it might have given the LEO a chance to compose himself instead of reacting with deadly force. The plate could have been run prior to approaching the vehicle at all.

    If I were making a traffic stop, I’d like to know as much about the vehicle’s owner before approaching the vehicle. It makes sense and it is not difficult to implement.

    Who wouldn’t?

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