Democratic candidates in Minnesota got some help in the closing days of the campaign from national gun control advocates Friday, as they try to rally voters newly motivated by the gun issue.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived a Tuscon shooting in 2011, was joined by her husband Mark Kelly, an astronaut and naval aviator, at an event near the University of Minnesota. They led a roundtable discussion with gun control activists and candidates U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, Dean Phillips and state Rep. Ilhan Omar. Walz is the Democratic nominee for governor, and Phillips and Omar are running for Congress.
“We must stop gun violence. Make our country a safer place, a better place,” said Giffords, who still speaks haltingly after being shot in the head. “Stand with me. Vote, vote, vote. On Election Day, your voice matters. Join your voice with mine.”
Bryan Strawser, chairman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, called the visit “yet another appearance of an out-of-state, well-funded, gun control group attempting to influence Minnesota elections.”
“Minnesotans aren’t going to fall for their agenda,” he added.
The willingness of Walz and Phillips to appear with such well known gun control advocates illustrates how the politics of the gun issue have changed just in the past few years, during which a string of mass shootings has beset communities including in Connecticut, Colorado, Virginia, Florida and Nevada.
A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll earlier this year showed strong majorities favor new gun control measures such as banning military style rifles and raising the age for gun purchases from 18 to 21.
But gun rights supporters remain dominant at the State Capitol, where Republicans — and more than a few Democrats — represent regions where guns are commonplace and restrictions on gun owners are viewed with suspicion.
Kelly, who flew four missions for NASA, was blunt about what needs to happen if new gun control measures are to be enacted: “We’ve been running around the country for the past few months trying to get the right people in office,” he said. “We need to flip the House.”
Kelly then introduced a number of gun control advocates, including religious figures, people who have lost loved ones to gun violence and the politicians.
Walz, who was once endorsed by the National Rifle Association until publicly breaking with the group during the past year or so, said even people in rural communities like in his congressional district have been affected by gun violence, specifically suicide.
Walz castigated his old allies in the NRA: “They are not interested in fixing this problem,” he said.
His opponent Jeff Johnson has said new gun control measures won’t reduce the number of gun deaths, which total about 33,000 in the United States every year.
Many on the panel have been active on the issue for decades. Joan Peterson’s sister was shot and killed in 1992 in a domestic incident. “We have done this over and over and our voices have not been heard, or if they’ve been heard they’ve been ignored,” she said.
Giffords and Kelly later joined a get-out-the-vote rally featuring Comedy Central personality Jordan Klepper and survivors of the gun massacre earlier this year at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
“The politics on this issue has changed a lot,” Kelly told Klepper. “We’ve turned this around. But we really need to flip control because we need the leadership.”
Gun control advocates believe they have found a new voting bloc in suburban voters who fear school shootings. Phillips, who is running in the Third Congressional District in the west metro suburbs, has highlighted his gun position in his race against his opponent U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who has won the support of the NRA.
“Nothing I am proposing is anything but common-sense solutions that an overwhelming majority of Americans support, including universal background checks,” Phillips said.
Paulsen has in the last year supported some gun-control measures, most notably so-called red flag laws, also known as gun violence protective orders, which generally allow police to seize guns from people deemed dangerous by a judicial authority.
The election will turn, at least in part, on turnout of key Democratic constituencies, including young voters.
Austin Berger and Sydney Lewis, both Minnesota students, were at the earlier roundtable and introduced the participants to a new term. “Sydney and I grew up in the lockdown generation,” Berger said.