Minnesotans have turned out in force this year to make clear to lawmakers that they are fed up with the same old dodges that have blocked reasonable gun safety reforms in this state.
They packed the State Capitol on the first day of the legislative session and in the months that followed. They did what citizens in this country are told to do when they want to make change: Show up. They called and wrote and rallied and testified (when that was even possible). This was no “AstroTurf” campaign. A recent Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed that an astonishing 90 percent of Minnesotans support expanded criminal-background checks and 63 percent of respondents would raise the legal age to buy a gun from 18 to 21.
And, yet, the GOP-dominated House and Senate have ignored those voices in favor of a far smaller group: extreme gun activists who go well beyond where the majority of responsible Minnesota gun owners and hunters are. Republican leaders have shut down debate, tabled bills, ruled amendments out of order, mocked students who tried to put their civics lessons to use — all in an attempt to forestall the will of the people who elected them.
Here’s the good news: This cannot stand. Whether change occurs this year or next, it is coming. Whether they bow to public pressure or sacrifice their careers in opposing it, legislators soon must recognize that Minnesotans want public research on gun violence. They want law enforcement and families to be able to get the court order that may save a loved one from taking their own life or someone else’s.
Minnesotans don’t want gun shows and private sales to be the loophole for those seeking to avoid the kinds of criminal-background checks that this state’s licensed firearms dealers conduct daily. Reasonable citizens know this state can preserve traditions of hunting and self-defense without allowing teenagers who can’t legally buy a beer to purchase combat-style weapons designed for mass slaughter.
Earlier this year, the Star Tribune Editorial Board hosted a panel of Twin Cities high school students with a variety of views for an extraordinarily civil discussion on curbing gun violence while recognizing Second Amendment rights. Their earnest efforts to listen and learn from one another should have been a model for those at the Capitol, who would rather resort to parliamentary trickery than risk floor votes on gun safety reforms.
Even what Republicans touted as a premier proposal — a robust school security package that could have already been signed into law as a stand-alone bill — is just another bargaining chip in the endgame, tucked into a giant omnibus funding bill loaded with controversial measures that may yet draw a gubernatorial veto.
Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier has been outspoken about his support for measures such as universal criminal-background checks and gun violence protection orders, which allow courts to temporarily remove weapons from individuals deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others. He said that behind closed doors, some rank-and-file Republican legislators are shifting from knee-jerk opposition. “When I talk to them in their offices, the conversation is starting to move beyond just saying no, or the problem’s too big, and moving toward what are the reasonable steps to take.”
But those steps have to be meaningful enough to make a difference. A watered-down version of enhanced background checks that relies on voluntary compliance, introduced just 20 days before the 2018 session will gavel to a close, does not meet that test.
Gun violence is not a Democrat-vs.-Republican issue. It’s not a rural-vs.-urban issue. And despite what leaders are telling you, there is ample time left to pass legislation that would make a real difference. When they need to beat the clock, legislators pass massive bills in minutes with virtually no discussion. That’s not an ideal way to legislate, but make no mistake, it happens. Avoiding debate all session and then claiming a lack of time is cowardly and falls short of the leadership Minnesotans expect.
Republicans should pass their school security package as a stand-alone bill, knowing Gov. Mark Dayton would sign it. They should pass enhanced criminal-background checks. That issue has been discussed for years at the Capitol.
“What is it going to take in Minnesota and American society to curb gun violence?” Serier asked an editorial writer. “In our schools we have to have active-shooter drills for kindergartners. That is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever heard of. If that’s the world we’re living in, it’s time to change it.”