Not sticking to his guns: In race for governor, Walz embraces role as gun-control candidate

Rep. Tim Walz speaking to attendees of a Wednesday meeting on gun safety laws.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Rep. Tim Walz speaking to attendees of a Wednesday meeting on gun safety laws, including Erin Zamoff, the state chapter leader for Moms Demand Action.

Tim Walz might not have been the first choice for governor of many of those who attended a meeting Wednesday in a St. Paul brewery. The DFL congressman did not have the bona fides on the issue that members of the group Moms Demand Action is organized around: gun safety laws in response to deadly school shootings around the country.

While the six-term congressman has changed some of his positions on gun laws over the last several years, Walz wasn’t Erin Murphy, the DFL primary candidate who backed the strictest gun control measures. Walz had that pesky résumé item of having been endorsed by the NRA in the past, and then there were the photos: pictures of Walz wearing a camo hat with the message, “Tim Walz: NRA Endorsed.”

Then came the primary. Not only did Walz easily defeat both Murphy and state Attorney General Lori Swanson, his victory set up a general election against a Republican candidate whose positions on the issue are the opposite of Moms Demand Action. Unlike Tim Pawlenty, who was expected to win the GOP primary right up until he didn’t, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson opposes any additional controls on guns.

During the primary campaign, Walz had shared the “Gun Sense” candidate designation with Murphy. Now he is the sole candidate in the governor’s race with the endorsement, and Wednesday he embraced it, complimenting groups like Moms Demand Action for changing the conversation around gun safety. “We can’t live like this,” he told the group. “We can’t go on like this. Something has to change.”

Walz then stated the obvious, that he and Johnson have very different positions on gun safety and gun control. “Elections are binary choices and sometimes that’s very frustrating,” Walz told the several dozen people gathered at the Urban Growler in St. Paul. “But in this case, especially as it deals with gun violence … you could not have a broader split between the two candidates.”

In the primary, Walz suffered from the comparison to Murphy among voters who back gun control measures. In the general, he stands to benefit from the comparison to Johnson among those same voters. But the former Mankato school teacher has stuck with one message that he used in the primary: that while passion on the issue is important getting legislation passed is better; and that it will take someone like him — someone who owns guns and knows gun culture — to work with people on both sides of the issue to find compromises.

“Endorsements are not a pat on the back,” he said. “They are much more kicks in the butt.”

He said he knows he is expected to get things changed. “It’s not good enough to be right on the issues if we can’t build the coalitions to move things forward.”

At the Wednesday meeting, the first question from the audience was about what was described as Walz’s conversion, from a politician who would receive an ‘A’ grade from the NRA to one currently earning an ‘F’ from the gun-rights group. While Johnson has accused Walz of changing his position as he moved from running for Congress in a more-conservative Southern Minnesota to a statewide run for governor, Walz says his views on the issue have been altered by gun violence and what he says are more-strident positions of the NRA.

“We’re all products of our past,” he said, before telling a frequently told story about how his high school classmates would bring their shotguns to school so they could hunt birds after football practice.

“I do support the 2nd Amendment,” he said. But what he termed, “responsible gun owners,” are accepting of background checks for gun purchases, red-flag warnings for those who shouldn’t own guns and bans on bump stocks that give semi-automatic weapons the capabilities of automatic weapons. “I can’t drive 80 miles per hour on the sidewalk just because I want to and I’m good at it,” he said.

Walz said there are urban-rural differences on the gun issue, mostly because of the difference in gun prevalence and gun culture. Hearing gunfire outside the St Paul brewery would elicit a different reaction than hearing the same in rural Minnesota, he said.

The former would make people think that something was wrong while the latter would suggest “that hunting season had started.” Gun violence is a problem in both places, however, and both might support some changes to make firearms less available, though he said there is less sense of urgency in Greater Minnesota than in the Twin Cities.

“This whole idea that guns and the number of guns don’t make any difference … for God’s sake, if there were more banana peels on the floor we’d have more people slipping on banana peels. And if there are more guns, more people are going to be killed by guns.”

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by R. Hanson on 09/13/2018 - 02:39 pm.

    The majority of gun violence in Minnesota is suicide. In 2017, there were 432 firearms related deaths, and 332 of them were suicides. That is 77%.

    Neither Walz nor Johnson have addressed this. The only action the state has taken to address a recent uptick in the suicide rate has been… shutting down the state’s suicide hotline.

    • Submitted by Tim Smith on 09/13/2018 - 03:57 pm.

      and..most murders with guns happen in the inner cities, but the left never wants to talk about that. They would rather not offend the base and make everybody else think they should fear fro their lives if they don’t get gun control.

      Make no mistake, Walz has done an about face to appeal to urban voters on guns and health care. It worked in the primary as he siphoned votes from Murphy. Remains to be see if it is a good statewide special election strategy.

      • Submitted by R. Hanson on 09/13/2018 - 04:59 pm.

        in 2017 there were 139 homicides in Minnesota. There were 35 murders in Minneapolis, 19 in St. Paul, and 85 outside of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

  2. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/13/2018 - 04:54 pm.

    The simplistic NRA view on what kills. It isn’t the gun that kills it is the human. The NRA is half right, there is a human involved. A gun is not an inert object and it too is involved. As soon as the trigger is pulled it then becomes the gun that kills, but the human is required to start the firing sequence. Guns with high capacity magazines and high killing power are strictly weapons of WAR and should not be available to the public. If weapons of war are not available to the human involved there will far less people killed with the gun. There are those who quote the requirements to change the second amendment and how hard it is to change. They want you to feel overwhelmed, so you’ll give in, mainly because it helps their case of wanting high capacity killing weapons of WAR. The NRA is killing American’s daily with their simplistic definition of what does the killing. Wayne LaPierre, the NRA spokesman, makes millions each year to make his ridiculous comments each time the NRA defends the gun as not being the killer.

    If we keep arming everyone the violence will just escalate. You and I know the NRA pushes their approach because it works really well for the gun manufacturers they support. Of course the NRA has misinterpreted the 2nd amendment to their favor. It is up to common sense to prevail. There is more to owning a gun than just owning it. Responsibility also goes along with ownership and not all are capable of responsibility, which is proven daily in America.

  3. Submitted by Paul Linnee on 09/13/2018 - 09:37 pm.

    I tend to be a strong supporter of more restrictions on firearms purchase and carrying, and I do think there is some strong logic in Walz’ argument that a person well acquainted with guns and those legally involved with them is better positioned to move these issues forward than somebody who can’t effectively explain (or understand) the difference between a shotgun and a rifle, or an automatic rifle (machine gun) vs. a semi-automatic rifle.

    I spent many years as a licensed Peace Officer in Minnesota, which obviously entailed gun training and carrying. I also spent 20 years in the Army Reserve, and as a cop in the Army Reserve, I was generally named the “range officer” by default and had to run the shooting practice for members on our Army Reserve unit. This entailed becoming familiar with and competent in the use of the M-16 (a true military assault rifle, and the rifle that the oft-mentioned AR-15 is a ‘down graded’ version of, in that it works exactly the same way except it lacks the AUTO position on the selector switch, which means the AR-15 cannot be used as a true “machine gun”, unlike the M-16, with which one can pull and hold the trigger and bullets will rapidly fly out until the magazine holding them is empty.

    This Army role also entailed developing competency with the Army 45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, somewhat similar to today’s police usage Glock (and also a favorite of ‘gang bangers’).

    As one who was close to and around guns for 25 years, and one who was required to carry one in a variety of scenarios, I must admit I have never owned one and never will.

    I support the Tim Walz position on guns.

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 09/13/2018 - 11:26 pm.

    Hunting is the model for gun ownership. It has a clear purpose. One never points a gun at another person. Hunters are licensed and trained in the law. Breaking the rules is not tolerated by hunters. No drive by hunting. No shooting protected species (innocent children certainly qualify). People use weapons to take a deer – not blast it to smithereens.

    While I suppose a few hunters turn their guns on themselves or use them in anger, it is rare. Perhaps we should require people to go hunting and actually kill an animal before we allow them to have weapons. The second amendment was written when most people lived rural, hunted, and killed varmints that were taking the livestock. Self protection was secondary. For sure, they didn’t keep loaded weapons in dresser drawers and purses.

    • Submitted by John Evans on 09/14/2018 - 02:51 pm.

      I kind of like this idea. You’re right, hunters and hunting rifles have never been a huge problem.

      But hand guns are made to kill only people. If a kid’s gonna lug around a 2.5 lb. hunk of metal, (without a proper holster,) eventually he’s gonna want to pull it out to intimidate someone. And it’s no fun at all to carry if you never even fire it, so it will be fired eventually. The target will often random, and always ill-advised.

  5. Submitted by Susan Swann on 09/14/2018 - 01:34 am.

    I don’t respect a candidate who doesn’t respect the endorsement process, first of all, and I’m also not interested in a candidate who’s planning to chase around after a compromise with a party that isn’t interested in compromising (though I’ll vote for him — in all honesty, I’d vote for a dead ficus if it had a (D) after its name). Offering to “compromise” with the GOP/NRA is nothing more than a face-saving way to surrender — wait for the shrug, and the “oh, well, I tried, what can you do when they won’t listen?”

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/14/2018 - 05:42 pm.

      Why would anyone respect the endorsement process? It disenfranchises large groups of voters and lets a small unrepresentative group of people choose (in the DFL’s case) unelectable candiates. Not “respecting” the endorsement just means letting the actual voters decide. Murphy’s framing of this as not respecting the endorsement just showed her lack of integrity.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/14/2018 - 10:34 am.

    Tim Smith may be correct in saying that Walz has changed his position on this, but personally, I’m thankful for that change, as it would be difficult to choose between two lunatics when the issue is our national cancer of gun violence. I’m not quite to Susan Swann’s position, but as the GOP at local, state and national levels edges more and more toward the authoritarian model, I’m getting closer. While the NRA/GOP position (And isn’t it interesting that the extremist one-issue organization can be paired so easily with that political party?) that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is accurate as far as it goes, it doesn’t go far enough. When gun rights advocates can point to the latest instance where a deranged killer has strangled several dozen people, then the NRA line makes more sense.

    As it is, that line only tells part of the story, as others have suggested. It’s true that people kill people, but it’s also true that people would have a much more difficult time killing other people if they did not have such easy and ready access to firearms, especially handguns. That applies to both suicides and homicides, so it covers both the “most frequent” and the “most airtime on TV news” parts of the statistics. In that context, R Hanson’s statistics do much to destroy Tim Smith’s implication that murder by firearm is an urban disease that doesn’t affect “greater Minnesota.” I’ll be interested in seeing what the 2018 numbers look like.

    A certain amount of nuance – loathed by extremists of both sides – seems required in a society with as long a history of self-induced violence as this one, and with as many firearms already in the hands of the general public. Joel Stegner’s comment also strikes me as a relevant point, and I agree that, if you’re putting food on the family table with it, a logical and practical case can be made for having at least some types of long arms available to licensed users. Many determined gun-rights advocates. however, have never killed an animal with one. Their shooting has too often involved fantasy scenarios of home invasion and urban combat. Having been a hunter a few times in my youth, I’ll vouch for the fact that it’s an eye-opening – one might reasonably say a philosophically-demanding – experience to take the life of a creature that is doing you no harm.

    Personally, I like Paul Linnee’s comment the best.

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