Gun control supporters at the State Capitol made a last-ditch effort Thursday at progress this year, trying but failing to expand background checks on gun sales and add a law that would allow temporary removal of firearms from a person deemed dangerous.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, offered two measures he said would help "to prevent future school shootings" and "prevent or reduce the slaughter that happens every day on our streets." Latz said he talked to people on both sides of the gun debate, and he described his bid to make background checks universal as a "heavily compromised and moderate approach."
But Republicans who control the state Senate, with support from three DFL senators, rejected Latz's bids to attach the two amendments to a wide-ranging spending bill that the Senate considered on Thursday. The bill dedicates nearly $20 million for schools to hire counselors or school resources officers, update building security and develop mental health programs. It also increases the frequency of school employee background checks and provides grants for schools to audit their security.
The Senate votes were the biggest test to date of whether gun control supporters at the State Capitol could seize political momentum from the renewed national debate over guns in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, where 17 people were killed. Lawmakers across the nation have been considering similar gun regulations, and a recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll found that 9 in 10 Minnesotans favor mandatory universal criminal background checks.
GOP staunchly opposed
But Republican legislative leaders have been unshakable in their opposition. On Thursday, House Speaker Kurt Daudt pushed back against reports from a day earlier that new gun restrictions were still a possibility in this legislative session, which ends in less than a month. Any new gun legislation should have the backing of the National Rifle Association, Daudt said in an interview.
"Could gun legislation be something where the NRA supports it and it actually could help keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals? That's the sort of thing we would need to look for," said Daudt, who said he personally does not support universal background checks or the temporary removal of firearms, known as "red flag laws" or extreme risk protection orders.
Daudt said he sees no scenario where further gun restrictions pass in Minnesota this year.
The measures Latz pushed in the Senate had previously been denied hearings in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committees. That panel's chairman, Sen. Warren Limmer, did not grant the proposals a hearing.
In Thursday's floor debate, Limmer, R-Maple Grove, used a parliamentary maneuver to block Latz from attaching either gun measure to the broader spending bill.
"There is no out-and-out gun policy in the bill," Limmer said, arguing that made Latz's measures "not germane" in legislative parlance. Senate President Michelle Fischbach, also a Republican, agreed with Limmer; the full Senate then voted on whether to uphold Fisch- bach's ruling on both bills.
In both cases, all of the Senate's Republicans voted to block the gun-control measure. That included two Republican senators, Scott Jensen of Chaska and Paul Anderson of Plymouth, who had previously come out in support of a universal background check bill.
Two DFL senators, Dan Sparks of Austin and Kent Eken of Twin Valley, sided with Republicans to reject the debate on the background checks bill. Sparks, Eken and Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm sided with Republicans on the red flag law.
People now do not need to go through a background check to buy guns from friends, neighbors, online or a private unlicensed seller at a gun show. Latz's proposal would have required the checks in all of those circumstances. It did not cover traditional shotguns and hunting rifles, he said.
Under the proposed red flag law, people could go to police if they feel there is an imminent danger that someone would harm themselves or others with a gun. Law enforcement would vet the information and determine whether to petition the court for a protective order.
"Red Flag laws like this make it harder for people who intend to die by suicide to get guns, which lowers the chances families will have to grieve those losses," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said in a statement.
'We see how U vote'
Gun control and gun rights advocates watched senators vote Thursday. Marti Priest of Hopkins spent hours holding a sign outside the Senate chambers that said: "Guns kill children" and on the other side, "We see how U vote."
In the House, the gun measures have not been discussed on the floor. DFL Rep. Erin Maye Quade held a 24-hour sit-in on the House floor this week to show those advocates she still hears their concerns and wants action.
Daudt said he didn't know what kind of gun bill could both garner NRA support and keep kids safe. He then referred to an idea that potentially could pass the Legislature but declined to discuss it.
"It's not my idea," he said. "If the person whose idea it is feels like they want to talk about that, they will."