Chanting and waving signs, hundreds of Minnesotans packed all three levels of the Capitol rotunda Thursday to demand legislative action on gun violence.
“No other civilized country has this problem,” said Luella Greene of Shafer, a city in rural Chisago County. “Even the uncivilized countries don’t have it.”
Supporters of stronger gun control laws face tough odds at the Capitol this year, with Republicans controlling the House and Senate. Not long after the rally wrapped up, DFL Rep. Dave Pinto of St. Paul took to the House floor to request legislative hearings on several of the measures sought by the rally’s organizers. But the two Republican chairmen he singled out declined to promise hearings on any gun control measures, much less votes.
Still, protesters had their say. “Politicians, we are speaking to you,” said Eva Goldfarb, a junior at St. Louis Park High School. “We’re not asking — we’re demanding. We’re not stopping until we’ve convinced Trump and all the other politicians that our lives are worth more than NRA money.”
Students stood solemnly facing the crowd, holding signs with the names of American schools where shootings have taken place. Columbine High School in Colorado. Rocori High School in Minnesota. Virginia Tech University.
Then a Minnesotan took the stage, a resident of Minneapolis who grew up in Florida and graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 students and staff were killed last week by a teenage gunman wielding an assault rifle.
“It tore a hole in my heart that will never be filled,’ said Gina Debogovich. As a high school sophomore at Stoneman Douglas more than 20 years ago, Debogovich said, she wrote a class paper on gun violence.
One bill backed by gun safety advocates would require background checks for all gun purchases. Checks are required when someone buys a gun from a licensed firearms dealer, but the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said a large percentage of guns are purchased directly from another person, online or through other avenues that do not involve a licensed dealer.
Another measure would allow police and family members to ask the court to prohibit someone from having a gun if they pose a danger to themselves or others.
This is not the first year legislators and advocates have pushed for such bills, but Latz was optimistic at a news conference earlier Thursday where supporters packed in shoulder-to-shoulder. Many DFL legislators were in the crowd and held signs calling for “Sensible gun laws now!”
“We didn’t have the votes to make them happen back then, nor the political will,” Latz said of when he was chairman of the Senate’s judiciary committee in 2013. “I think maybe we’ll have that this year on some of these bills.”
Warren Limmer, chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said Thursday that he hasn’t yet seen the proposals touted at the rally. Discussions are underway post-Florida, he said, on ways to improve school safety and help find funding to accomplish that.
“I am not interested in far-left or far-right bills. I want ideas that offer solutions,” Limmer said. He later added: “It’s an American axiom that says we just need another law and the world will go back to its Pollyannish reality, and that’s not true.”
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said this week that he supports universal background checks but noted such measures are not going to prevent guns from ending up in the wrong hands.
“No, it’s not going to do that. But does that mean we do nothing, because we can’t do everything?” Dayton said.
Advocates, calling gun violence “a public health crisis,” pushed for two other pieces of legislation.
They want the state to spend $100,000 on a gun trauma treatment pilot program. And the Minnesota Department of Health should be mandated to track, analyze and report patterns and root causes of firearm injuries and deaths, said Thomas Kottke, president of the Twin Cities Medical Society’s board of directors.
Many parents brought young children to the rally. Amelia Shindelar of St. Paul had her 2-year-old sons, Calvin and Andrew, in a stroller. Her 6-year-old daughter, Josie, wore a shirt that read, “Hear our voice: From a march to a movement.”
“I think it’s important for people to see the children and know who is being affected,” Shindelar said.
Cheryl Persigehl of Minneapolis handed out orange buttons and magnets at the rally supporting Protect Minnesota, the group that organized the gathering. She said the group respects the right of people to use guns responsibly for hunting and sport.
“We’re not anti-gun, we’re anti-gun violence,” Persigehl said.
Staff writer Judy Keen and University of Minnesota student reporter Emily Allen contributed to this report.