As she prepared for the House floor session on Tuesday, DFL Rep. Erin Maye Quade packed some orzo salad, plenty of water, a blanket and 8-by-11-inch photos of men and women who were shot and killed.
These aren’t her usual provisions for a day at the state Capitol, but Maye Quade was planning to do something rarely done in state politics: conduct a 24-hour sit-in on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives to protest lack of movement on gun control proposals in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“As a member of the minority and not a member of the public safety committee, there’s not a lot I can do, but I can do this,” Maye Quade, a first-term representative from Apple Valley, said Tuesday while sitting at the center of the chamber. She was surrounded by several of her colleagues in the DFL House caucus and one Republican legislator, Rep. Dario Anselmo of Edina.
Gun control has become major issue at the Capitol this year after 17 people were shot and killed at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February, just one week before lawmakers were set to convene the 2018 session in Minnesota.
In late March, students marched out of their classrooms and activists flooded the Capitol to push for a handful of measures, including a bipartisan bill to require background checks for gun sales and transfers, and another measure that would make it mandatory to report stolen or missing firearms.
But those proposals were tabled in the House and not heard in the Senate committees this session, meaning they’ve effectively stalled with just five weeks left to go before lawmakers are required to adjourn for the year.
Sit-ins were a common form of protest during the civil rights movement, but they are rarely used in Minnesota politics. Maye Quade said she decided to do the sit-in yesterday, after hearing more stories of students doing lockdown drills in their classrooms, and after a Sunday poll in the Star Tribune showed 90 percent of those surveyed supported background checks for all gun sales. The same poll also showed 41 percent of people thought the Legislature hasn’t done enough on gun control.
“I never did a lockdown drill in school and the students in my district, and the students in your districts do lockdown drills every year,” Maye Quade said to members as she started the sit-in. “It is unacceptable that a policy that 90 percent of Minnesotans support cannot get a vote on this floor.”
One of the photos in front of Maye Quade was that of Chase Passauer, a 23-year-old law clerk in St. Paul who was was shot six times in the stomach and killed in 2016 by a client who was upset about how his case was being handled and who couldn’t reach his attorney. Maye Quade’s wife used to work with Passauer.
Another photo showed Shelley Joseph-Kordell, who was killed in 2003 by a distant relative as she was arriving for a court hearing.
“I know that there are people across the state that are doing everything they can,” Maye Quade said. “I want to do everything I can too.”