Minnesota students and DFL state senators, hoping to capitalize on momentum from this weekend's gun control rallies, renewed their push Monday for firearm restrictions, school safety measures and gun ownership studies.
But the GOP chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee said the likelihood that any gun restrictions — like expanded background checks and "red flag" laws — will get votes this legislative session is "getting narrower." The deadline has already passed for some of the bills to be approved by a committee, and Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, an opponent of new gun control measures, said legislators will be focusing on measures that have progressed.
It is "shameful" that many of the gun bills have not had hearings, said Ben Jaeger, a junior at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. He said he and other students plan to continue to pressure lawmakers to act this session — and also intend to get involved in coming midterm elections.
"I understand that this is an issue with strong believers on both sides," said Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, who traveled to Washington, D.C., for Saturday's March for Our Lives. "But if we can't discuss this acute and excruciating tragedy in the committee rooms of the state Legislature, then why do they bother to send us here? Young people marching across this country are asking that question."
About 15 students in orange hoodies bearing the hashtag #MNneveragain watched as the DFL lawmakers reiterated their support for gun control policies. The students were among hundreds of thousands who rallied Saturday in Washington. Another 20,000 gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol.
The rallies provide the backdrop for a broader discussion about guns in society, Limmer said. While refusing to consider further gun control measures, Limmer said he may hold an informational hearing in the coming weeks on proposals from both sides of the debate.
"Hopefully we can have a better understanding, rather than do kind of a knee-jerk reaction out of fear or emotion," Limmer said. "This is something we have to balance interests on."
Students have put a fresh face on the gun control debate, but their arguments are not new, Minnesota Gun Owners Political Director Rob Doar said. He said his caucus is "apathetic" about a proposal at the State Capitol to ban bump stocks, which attach to a semi-automatic rifle to make it rapidly fire like an automatic weapon.
And, Doar said, he believes tweaks are needed to the "red flag" proposal, also called gun violence protection orders, that would allow families and law enforcement to petition the court to remove someone's guns. Gun owners should always have an opportunity to address the court, and the legislation should ensure someone who is wrongfully accused is able to get their weapons back and reclaim legal fees, Doar said.
The gun legislation discussed Monday is primarily sponsored by DFLers, but school safety efforts have earned bipartisan support. One bipartisan measure would require school districts to create threat assessment teams. GOP and DFL legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton have also said they want to add funding to improve school security.
Although GOP state lawmakers have expressed little appetite for gun control legislation, some Republicans in Congress, including Rep. Erik Paulsen, have said they would support certain measures.
Limmer said he wants to wait and see what comes of federal proposals before Minnesota considers similar measures.
Paulsen, who has been supported by the National Rifle Association, backs a bump stock ban and gun violence protection orders. He said a continued bipartisan push is needed and youth protests could be a driving force for change.
"That energy can be harnessed positively to make progress, and hopefully it leads to gun violence restriction orders and other areas to prevent gun violence," he said Monday at his field office in Eden Prairie.
Paulsen noted the $1.3 trillion federal spending bill Congress approved last week includes improvements to the criminal background check system used to examine gun purchasers' records, as well as a clarification allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
But several University of Minnesota medical students who attended the DFL legislators' news conference said that's not enough. They are in favor of a couple bills that support the Minnesota Department of Health's ability to collect and study gun ownership data.