Gun-control activists and police officers took a cue from President Obama’s gun violence package Wednesday and vowed to work on several fronts at the Minnesota Legislature to prevent gun violence.
"I think there’s a sea change occurring," said Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. Paymar will be carrying a bill to require background checks for all Minnesota gun sales, including those at gun shows or between private parties, and believes it has a better chance than in the past.
The national reaction to December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and Obama’s focus on the issue has changed legislators’ minds, Paymar said. "This has become a big issue," he added, and said he believes some rural legislators who traditionally support gun rights may now support his bill..
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, representing rank-and-file officers around the state, will also support expanded background checks, said executive director Dennis Flaherty. The group will also support an expanded police presence in schools, with state and federal funding to help defer the costs, he said. The group will adamantly oppose proposals to allow teachers and other school workers to carry weapons as a way of stopping such crimes, Flaherty said.
That is the chief post-Connecticut proposal of Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, leader of gun-rights activists at the Legislature. He said he saw little he agreed with in Obama’s plan.
"I don’t plan on giving an inch on anything except making it harder for bad guys to get guns," Cornish said. Joseph Olson, head of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance and longtime gun-rights advocate, said he believes no further controls will pass at the state level this year.
"As time goes on and the hysteria goes down, people are reverting to the common sense they had before," Olson said.
Heather Martens, executive director of the gun-control group Protect Minnesota, said even if the federal government acts, the state must tighten its background checks. She expects state bills seeking to ban assault weapons and high-capacity clips and to crack down on "straw purchasers" who legally purchase guns and transfer them to ineligible people.
"I found the press conference very powerful and very encouraging," Martens said of Obama's announcement. "It recognizes the tide is turning on this. We've allowed the firearms industry to set our gun laws for far too long. It's time for that to change."
Flaherty of the police officers' group said his organization will seek to re-establish a school safety center within the Department of Public Safety that can help schools with training and curriculum. He also said the group wants to "increase the presence of officers in schools" rather than arming civilians in school buildings.
The group will also seek to ensure that those who commit crimes while carrying guns, whether or not the gun is used, receive an additional penalty. Otherwise, he said, there is no reason why a robber or burglar would not carry a weapon.
"People are going to have to understand if you're going to carry a weapon when you commit a crime, you're going to pay for it," Flaherty said.
Gov. Mark Dayton has made no gun-violence proposals this year so far, but a spokeswoman said he is open to listening to proposals.