The fight over gun legislation at the Minnesota Capitol might be a preview of the fight over pretty much everything at the Capitol

Moms Demand Action organized a first-day-of-session rally
Moms Demand Action organized a first-day-of-session rally in the Capitol Rotunda last week.

Last summer, two candidates for the Republican nomination for governor of Minnesota took two approaches to the issue of gun safety.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty took a nuanced position. While saying he thought the 2nd Amendment protects individual gun owners, the former governor endorsed a ban on bump stocks; supported broadening universal background checks, saying he would like to see that system extending on a voluntary basis to non-licensed gun sales.

His opponent, Jeff Johnson, went in another direction: He opposed all restrictions on the sale and ownership of guns beyond current laws.

It hasn’t been lost on Republican elected officials that Pawlenty was defeated by Johnson when Minnesota Republicans voted in the August primary. But it also wasn’t lost on them that Johnson was defeated when the electorate included all voters in the November general election.

Was gun control the only issue in either election? No. Polls showed that just a handful of voters identified it as the most-important issue. But, among those passionate about gun control, it was a motivating one.

Now, Democrats who took control of the state House want to push several gun safety bills, and are arguing that Republicans who still control the Senate should heed the general election results, especially the results the Twin Cities suburbs. While there were many issues at play in those races (Donald Trump being first among them), one of the issues that delivered House control to the DFL was gun safety.

As House Speaker Melissa Hortman said at a first-day-of-session rally with the gun safety group Moms Demand Action: “You elected this majority. And you have put us in a position to move legislation forward, to get legislation passed the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives.”

House Speaker Melissa Hortman
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
House Speaker Melissa Hortman speaking at a first-day-of-session rally with the gun safety group Moms Demand Action.
There is little doubt that Hortman’s DFL majority in the House will pass at least two gun-safety measures. When DFLers released their list of the 10 bills they’d take up in the body, two addressed gun control: establishing universal background checks for all gun purchases — in effect closing the loophole around private sales — and implementing so-called “red flag” warnings allowing people to seek court-ordered extreme risk protection orders to remove guns from potentially dangerous people.

But that qualification — that the bills will pass the House — is what hangs over the issue this session, as Senate Republicans are not persuaded that changes to state law are needed, a position that applies not just to gun bills but also to a series of other DFL priorities, from a public option for health insurance to a gas-tax hike and paid family leave.

What did the election mean, then?

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, does not see too much of a policy message in the 2018 election results that gave DFLers a majority in the House. Instead, Gazelka attributes the GOP losses to an unpopular president and normal mid-term struggles by the party in control of the White House. “We’ve had divided government for most of the time in Minnesota,” Gazelka said when asked about the election results. “For some reason [voters] like that. It was a normal midterm sweep. We think our ideas matter and work and we’re gonna prove it.”

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, is the chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, where the gun bills will go if they reach the Senate, and he too appears unmoved by the election results.

He said that GOP action will likely be in the area of making schools safer through better security and protections. “Gun safety will continue to be a topic of discussion at the Capitol. Last year, those conversations led to a significant investment in school safety that I’m very proud of, and I think there will be interest in doing more for schools this year. With divided government, any new solutions will need to have wide bipartisan support to be seriously considered.”

In response to those comments, Hortman again pointed to the election results, which suggests GOP senators in the suburbs around the Twin Cities could be at risk in 2020. One of the two GOP House members in Limmer’s 34th District, for example, lost their re-election, and there are two other Districts now represented by GOP senators where both House seats were captured by the DFL in the most recent election.

“We always get a little bit better at listening to our constituents when we’re headed into an election cycle,” she said. “House members tend to think we’re better at listening to Minnesotans because we’re on the ballot every two years. I think as Sen. Limmer talks to constituents in Maple Grove, he will find that there are a lot of people who found Parkland to be the last straw.”

Looking ahead to 2020

The 2018 and 2020 elections were certainly on the minds of activists who demonstrated outside the House and Senate on the opening day of the 2019 legislative session.

Bob Mokos, whose sister was killed by a firearm, noted that the session was convening on the 6th anniversary of the assault in Tucson that resulted in six dead and seriously injured U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Mokos said there should be systems in place to respond to people getting guns who shouldn’t have them: criminals, those with mental health issues, those who have threatened family members or others. There isn’t such a system, he said, because the gun lobby has quashed them.

“However, there is a process in place to remedy this issue. And that is called an election,” Mokos said. “All legislators in the Senate or the House who continue to defy the wishes of the majority will find themselves running against a common-sense gun candidate in the next election.

“As this past election demonstrated, if our legislators will not protect us, then they can expect us in 2020.”

Walz is a yes

New Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign a gun bill if it reaches his desk. Walz underwent his own conversion on gun laws after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida resulted in the death of 17 students and staff members. Walz, who had received “A” grades from NRA during much of his time in Congress, got an “F” from the gun-rights group after he endorsed bills being pushed by gun-control activists.

“I’ve rejected this notion that you can’t protect 2nd Amendment rights at the same time that you have common-sense legislation,” Walz said after his swearing in as governor.

“I think there’s going to be an opportunity for all of us to work that,” he continued. “I know this is an incredibly charged issue. But to move a couple of pieces of legislation that have data supporting that they make our communities, our schools, our workplaces safer and having no impact on the ability of lawful gun owners to purchase firearms seems like the right thing to do.”

But any measures will also be fought by gun-rights advocates. “Violent crime involving firearms has been trending down for almost three decades,” said Rob Doar, vice president and political director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, which opposes additional gun laws. “Minnesota is one of the safest states in the country — new and extreme approaches are not needed.

“We remain hopeful that solutions that would actually yield positive results like school safety, stronger enforcement of current law, and strategies to help loved ones in crisis will be part of the conversation. So far, all we have seen is proposals that will have virtually no impact on criminals, but tremendous impact on law-abiding gun owners.”

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Comments (40)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Weyandt on 01/14/2019 - 11:59 am.

    History has shown that gun control proposals aren’t an automatic sell within the DFL. A significant number of members from that party voted against gun control proposals in the past. Ignoring that history and not taking the time to count votes does not bode well for the ideas being offered today.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/14/2019 - 01:28 pm.

      It seems you are saying that a yes vote by some Dems could be political suicide. Perhaps. There are times, however, when one must risk one’s position to do what one considers the right thing. This is one of those times, on whichever side of the line one finds oneself and to whichever party one may belong.

      This is too important for vote counting.

      • Submitted by Thomas Weyandt on 01/14/2019 - 03:52 pm.

        I agree that these proposals are important. But the legislation that I helped draft in the early teens got shot down when rural and suburban DLFer’s wouldn’t back them. Unless those seats have new people I wonder if it can get anyplace.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/14/2019 - 09:09 pm.

          Rural Democrats? Yes, I recall those creatures.

          How many of them were there in the early teens, compared to now?

  2. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 01/14/2019 - 12:30 pm.

    Rob Dohr. Every place that has tightened gun laws has reduced the risk of school shootings. That you are willing to do nothing to stop those young white men to commit mass murder says a lot about a man more afraid his gun is going to be taken away than children slaughtered in our state.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/14/2019 - 03:44 pm.

      That is simply not true. The places with the highest gun murder rates have the most strict gun laws on the books. None of the proposed laws would have stopped any of the mass school shootings. Those people all passed background checks or stole their guns by murdering someone.

      • Submitted by N. Coleman on 01/14/2019 - 05:18 pm.

        26 of the top 30 homicide rates are in cities with very relaxed gun laws.

        The most gun violence is in the south, and in southernized midwestern states like Missouri and Indiana.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/15/2019 - 09:52 am.

        No, it is absolutely 100 percent true. Your claims, however, are pure nonsense.

    • Submitted by Rob Doar on 01/14/2019 - 06:38 pm.

      As a father of two school aged children, I find your attempt to malign me rather humorous.

      The real question you should be asking is what laws could have prevented the shootings (particularly as the vast majority of them already passed background checks.)

      I have worked diligently on school safety legislation that would actually help protect kids from ANY threat that emerges on campus. Not just guns.

      What have you done?

  3. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/14/2019 - 03:41 pm.

    Not one of these laws would have stopped Parkland or Gifford’s own shooting. Those people passed background checks. These laws only serve to make law abiding citizens into criminals and makes it harder for them to defend themselves. Walz is also wrong, the 2nd strictly forbids any gun control laws…that’s what “shall not be infringed” means. You cannot protect the 2nd Amendment right by restricting that right even further.

    Democrats will lose on this issue, even in Minnesota

    • Submitted by kurt nelson on 01/14/2019 - 05:26 pm.

      It appears you’ve never read Heller, you might want to take the time and check out Justice Scalia’s (wrongly decided) opinion, where he states quite clearly that there is room within the 2ndA to regulate and restrict firearms.

      The 2ndA, like all the Amendments are not absolute, regardless of what you might think. There are plenty of restrictions of firearms, and even in fantasy land, universal background checks for instance, does not equal confiscation.
      Read Justice Steven’s dissent – a far stronger opinion that the 2nd is a collective right, not individual.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/15/2019 - 09:22 am.

        Scalia was wrong. Rights existed long before govt. There can never be limits or restrictions placed on rights because then they are privileges that the govt can change on a whim. Take speech, you actually have the right to yell fire in a theater…unless the theater owner has a rule against it to which you agree to abide by when you enter the property. If you break that rule you can and should be held accountable for any damages or harm. The govt has no legal authority to restrict your speech without amending the Constitution first. Same goes with guns …the 2nd places no restrictions at all on guns and strictly prohibits all restrictions by govt. Govt has no legal authority to require background checks, ban any gun, require permits etc without first amending the Constitution to give themselves that authority.

        Rights also can’t be collective or group. Rights are individual only because you can only control yourself.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/15/2019 - 09:56 am.

          Ah, the Supreme court – the body that makes the final interpretations on the constitution – is wrong, but you know how it really is. Got it.

          • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/15/2019 - 10:27 am.

            I suggest you go read what people like Thomas Jefferson said about Judicial Review. They left it out of the Constitution on purpose. Scotus usurped that power in the Marbury case. The Constitution does not all any authority for the Scotus to decide what is or is not constitutional.

            Might I also remind you of classics like Dred Scott, Plessy etc? Supreme Court Justices have often been wrong. I would take the words of Thomas Jefferson et al over what a Scotus Justice thinks, esp with the likes of Kagan, RBG etc on the Court.

    • Submitted by David Lundeen on 01/14/2019 - 06:11 pm.

      Mr. Barnes, it is my express intent to remove fanatical claims and beliefs like those exhibited by yourself from our public discourse. The views you highlight have no basis in logic, reason or morality, and, even more important, the beautifully written American Constitution. As a Republican and Christian, or whatever beliefs you ascribe to, you require hypocrisy. The second amendment has had clear rulings and precedents in the past limiting the types of weapons which can be sold. Those precedents are easily found, and would take much less time finding that writing an unlettered response which you most likely will.

      Your argument is premised on the fact that if it’s written in the Constitution, it can’t changed. But I don’t hear you complaining about Republican restrictions on the most important amendments – the 14th and 15 amendments – the right to vote for all citizens. It’s an untenable position you hold, once which does not hold up to any honest intellectual discussion of reason and independent judgment. The 2nd amendment is not god-given, or whatever dumb platitude may be applied. It was written by men, much more intelligent than any of us, who would reject what this has come to.

      Rather, a new course must be charted. Clearly, there are irreconcilables like Mr. Barnes who will never be dissuaded from the zero-sum positions he occupies. Coalitions need to be built to peel off reasonable gun-owners, of which I am one, that support responsible gun laws. Those gun laws have to include closing gun-show loopholes, AR and handgun bans, and universal background checks. These laws will reduce the amount of tragic and unnecessary deaths in our great country, regardless of what fearful, old men like Mr. Barnes claims.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/15/2019 - 09:35 am.

        Actually my claims are fully backed by the Founding Fathers who wrote and debated the Constitution. There are plenty of bad precedents in our legal and judicial system. That doesn’t mean we should continue to abide by them or compound them.

        If you go read the definition of infringe, you will find that I am right. All gun control laws infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.

        To point out the flaws in your logic and outright wrong claims, go look at almost any mass shooter in the US. Almost every one of them passed a background check. There also is no gun show loop hole. Private sales have nothing to do with gun shows. Sellers at gun shows are federally licensed dealers and require background checks for every sale. Also, how do you plan to enforce background checks on private sales? It’s physicslly impossible. And if YOU wanted to give your child a gun for their birthday why should both of you have to get a background check done in order to do it?

        There are thousands of gun laws on the books in the US, yet shootings still happen. How will having more laws stop that? Even the police aren’t siding with you. A survey of some 15,000 police officers overwhelmingly showed they want more people armed. They know they can’t be everywhere at once.

        • Submitted by richard owens on 01/15/2019 - 10:29 am.

          Mr. Barnes: You have been duped by the “survey of 15,000 LE officers”.

          If that misleading citation was inadvertent, here is the fact check of that so-called “survey” for you.

          Please read it and correct your assertions when we debate. Let’s stop the use of misleading or outright lying propaganda techniques here at MN Post.

          [quote]
          “…a reference to a March survey by a group called PoliceOne.com, a news and resource site for law enforcement officers. The survey wasn’t a scientific poll that aimed to gather responses from a random sample of the nation’s police officers. Rather, it was a self-selected Internet poll, in which more than 15,000 of PoliceOne.com’s 400,000 registered members chose to respond, either because of email solicitation or a link to the survey on the PoliceOne.com website.”
          [end quote]

          https://www.factcheck.org/2013/04/nra-misrepresents-police-survey-legislation/

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/15/2019 - 01:31 am.

      No, as not you, nor anyone else, has a direct line to dead 18th century politicians, that phrase means whatever a Supreme Court Justice interprets it to mean. For the vast majority of our country’s history, that was not the interpretation the modern gun lobby suggests. Interpretations change, they have before, they will again, and nothing those of your mindset can do, short of outright insurrection (a foolish proposition) will change that fact.

      • Submitted by Greg Smith on 01/15/2019 - 08:37 am.

        A truly terrifying premise, a phrase means whatever 5 people justices decide if means

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/15/2019 - 09:39 am.

        That is simply not true. The Framers wrote extensively on what the words in the Constitution mean. Start with the Federalist Papers and the Anti Federalists. Also the letters written by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison et al.

        The Supreme Court was never meant to have the power to interpret what the Constitution means. They usurped that power in the Marbury v Madison case. Thomas Jefferson even wrote about their debates on allowing such a power to be given to the court and that they rejected the idea if giving it to them.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/15/2019 - 10:00 am.

          What utter nonsense. Of course the Supreme Court has to interpret the constitution. How else would anything get decided.

          • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/15/2019 - 10:31 am.

            The decision of what is or is not Constitutional sits with Congress first, then the President and then the States and People. It does not reside with unelected court justices. The remedy for something deemed unconstitutional is for Congress not to pass in the first place, if they do then the President should veto. If that doesn’t stop it then the States would have recalled their Senators and finally the People would vote in new Congress members to undo what was done.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/15/2019 - 10:06 am.

          “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

          -Thomas Jefferson (as engraved on the Jefferson memorial)

          • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/15/2019 - 10:49 am.

            You should read the letter that quote came from. Taken out of context it means little. Here is a link. Also, that quote has nothing to do with passing gun laws. You have to amend the Constitution in order to have the authority to restrict any right. Just like you may want to lower sentence for some crimes, you must change the law to achieve that goal. The current law of the land says no restrictions on rights are legal, period.

            http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl246.php

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/15/2019 - 05:13 pm.

              Newsflash Bob, Jefferson is dead, has been a long, long time. I don’t particularly care WHAT his opinion is on the matter as he is no longer around to care. I am, my kids are. The Founders aren’t deities, their opinions are not infallible, and the words of the Constitution are not some holy writ, they’re the best efforts of a bunch of dead politicians mucking about at creating a government (on their second try). To expect that the nations future be constrained by the limited imaginations of folks not far removed from burning witches at the stake is the height of abject lunacy.

              • Submitted by ian wade on 01/15/2019 - 11:01 pm.

                Well stated, Matt!

              • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/16/2019 - 09:31 am.

                Then amend the Constitution. The words in it mean what the Founding Fathers wrote them to mean. The only way to change that is to amend it. They wrote volumes on that document so we would have references to what they meant by the wording in that document.

                They may be dead but they wrote the document that is the supreme law of this nation.

                • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/17/2019 - 01:59 pm.

                  The Constitution is a piece of paper (parchment?l, with words written on it, no more. On it’s own, it might be useful as kindling, or perhaps to clean up a spill. The IDEAS of the society the chooses to be constrained by its words are what matters, and its citizens. We can throw out any IDEAS at any time, regardless of what a bunch of dead guys decided 2 centuries ago. If enough people I society decide to tell gun nuts to pound sand, with respect to their “sacrosanct” gun rights, you’ll pound sand, no matter what piece of paper you produce to try and ward them off.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/15/2019 - 09:54 am.

      You have a very poor understanding of the constitution. The 2nd amendment specifically contemplates government regulation. Courts have upheld numerous gun control laws.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/16/2019 - 09:33 am.

        Nonsense. The Constitution was written to constrain the federal govt. It is a list of limited powers granted to the govt and it lists rights that are strictly protected from govt interference (speech, arms, property etc).

  4. Submitted by David Therkelsen on 01/14/2019 - 06:42 pm.

    Voters will continue to show at the polls that they will no longer accept the vacuous excuse that better gun laws would not have prevented this shooting or that shooting. It is a fact that no other advanced nation tolerates even a fraction of the gun deaths that we do. It is a fact that 90% of the public favors common sense laws like universal background checks. Compare that to the 1.5% of Americans who belong to NRA. Its stranglehold on public policy will end soon.

    • Submitted by Mark Kulda on 01/15/2019 - 06:10 pm.

      Most people certainly don’t want certain people to be able to acquire guns. But I’m just curious. Which of the recent mass shootings would have been prevented if a universal background check on gun sales would have been in place?

  5. Submitted by N. Coleman on 01/15/2019 - 10:01 am.

    Gun violence is not out of control in Minnesota. Our existing laws are reasonably effective and aligned with what voters across the state want. Thus this issue doesn’t seem like it should be first order of business. The only reason I can see new gun control legislation being paramount is if these laws help establish a stronger defense against future antisocial pro-gun violence legislation by the republicans.

  6. Submitted by richard owens on 01/15/2019 - 10:49 am.

    The NRA is a TOOL of Republican wedge issue politics, an extension of the central reactionary themes of FEAR and racism.

    Russian NRA influences have seamlessly woven Russian and Republican Presidential politics together with dark superpac and foreign kleptocrat money.

    Putin cares not a whit for you “gun rights” or dead American victims.

    What will it take to wake the reactionary BASE? They are being used by a dictatorial wrecking crew designed to break democratic alliances all around the world.

    By using their own internal contradictions against them, and the ethics-challenged Zuckerberg’s Facebook media as an amplifier of provocation, the NRA is now shown to be just one more way to divide citizens against each other, as if we were the enemy.

    Rights are for human beings. No inanimate object has any rights.

  7. Submitted by Jim Smola on 01/15/2019 - 12:42 pm.

    The gun laws that are being proposed are common sense measures that reflect the overall public opinions regarding regulation.

    Requiring background checks at gun shows and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally disabled and individuals who have committed domestic assault do not fringe on gun owner rights.

    To say that laws such as these would not have prevented gun violence is utter nonsense because there isn’t any way to come to that conclusion.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/15/2019 - 03:32 pm.

      Nearly every mass shooter has passed a background check. Making them universal wouldn’t have stopped them. Red flag laws wouldn’t have either. Cruz was reported numerous times and visited by LEOs over 20 times and they did nothing. They ignored reports of felony assault with a deadly weapon. So that’s on the Sheriff’s office.

      None of the proposed laws would have stopped any of the shootings that everyone is up in arms over.

  8. Submitted by Erik Petersen on 01/15/2019 - 02:50 pm.

    The house bill introduced, HF8, obsoletes the purchase permit system and its yearly BCA / Dept of Health background check and replaces it with a requirement for a BCA / Dept of Health background check on every retail and personal sale. That’s excessive, actually, and probably can’t pass. There’s going to be numerous DFLers who cant vote for it to say nothing of unanimous GOP opposition. A passable bill needs to have a less draconiain mechanism. And yes, this is possible to do.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/15/2019 - 04:23 pm.

      I don’t see anything as passable besides the fact that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t allow it. None of the proposed laws would stop any of the mass shootings. All they would do is make criminals out of more law abiding citizens and make it harder for people to defend themselves.

      The US does not have a gun problem. We have a mental health problem and a criminal problem. Address the mental health issues and start locking actual criminals up for much longer periods of time. Clean up the gang violence and many of the gun crimes will cease to happen.

      • Submitted by richard owens on 01/15/2019 - 05:01 pm.

        Nothing you have stated is supported by evidence.
        Your opinion is not factual. It is illogical rhetoric and proves nothing.

        Mr. Barnes, you do not debate honestly. You provide sickening recitation of the gun lobby’s twisted defense of their irresponsible product distribution, pretending it is “heaven sent” from the Holy Founding Fathers themselves in a musket passage that allows for local militias.

        The most absurd of all is this off-putting remark that insults all victims, their families, and all who suffer from mental illness but are not dangerous.

        BARNES, “The US does not have a gun problem. We have a mental health problem and a criminal problem. ”

        Your own statement borders on delusion, denying what any normal person may observe could also be called a form of mental illness.

        The Constitution is not a roadblock designed to protect gun distributors.
        Armed criminals are not criminals until they commit a crime.
        Mental illness does not make people violent.
        Red flag laws CAN PREVENT gun wielding casualties.
        Your dismissive attitude on such a serious subject is repulsive.

        Debate honestly or at least be honest with yourself. You don’t know what you assert.

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