The generation whose blood is being shed in school shootings is just beginning to flex its political might. As its members cross the voting-age threshold, here’s some advice: Seek and support the type of leadership displayed this week by four Minnesota legislators.
On Monday, a small, bipartisan group of suburban state senators followed their consciences as they announced their support for two eminently reasonable measures to help prevent firearms from getting into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.
One bill, SF 3279, would require so-called “universal” background checks for gun sales and transfers, a gun safety remedy the editorial board has called for. The other bill, SF 3278, would mandate reporting lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement within two weeks, with repeated failures to report resulting in escalating charges.
These efforts are measured steps to begin reining in gun violence. And their introduction by State Sens. Matt Little, DFL- Lakeville; Scott Jensen, R-Chaska; Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury; and Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, comes amid nationwide student walkouts following the deaths of 17 people in a Parkland, Fla., school shooting.
The senators listened and found common ground, and while they didn’t come up with a cure-all, they came up with solutions — an outcome that is an all-too-rare act of political courage in this polarized age. Regrettably, Senate leaders from both parties responded with a distinct lack of courage.
The four senators’ Monday news conference had barely wrapped up when a statement from Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, landed in Capitol press corps inboxes. The message: These bills are going nowhere. Gazelka also seemed to go out of his way to swat down the effort following Gov. Mark Dayton’s “State of the State” speech on Wednesday. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, hasn’t gone out of his way to champion them, either.
In an interview, Gazelka said the session is short and better focused on measures with broader appeal, such as hardening school building security. He also said there’s “bipartisan opposition” to the two bills. Bakk has previously opposed universal background checks, and some rural DFLers feel similarly. Still, it’s unusual that Gazelka would place such priority on having minority party buy-in, making this feel like an excuse for inaction.
Both leaders’ actions reflect calculations about this fall’s looming election and the likelihood the measures would not pass the Minnesota House. What’s missing is a sense of the upper chamber’s institutional mission. Its longer terms reflect an expectation of big-picture leadership. Allowing these bills an airing, instead of quashing them immediately, could have sent a strong message that collaboration is valued. It also would have sent a strong message to an anguished younger generation: We hear you.
Minnesota students, however, heard legislative leaders loud and clear. Devin Bauert, 18, a Henry Sibley High School senior who participated in last week’s protests, said she appreciated measures to improve school building security. But that only focuses on part of the problem, she said. And when gun access isn’t tackled, students are deliberately left at risk.
Elena Medeiros, 18, and Asher Bernick-Roehr, 18, both seniors at St. Paul Central High School, share Bauert’s frustration. “How do you not consider guns when you are talking about gun violence?” Bernick-Roehr said.
Both added that politicians need to understand that students aren’t going to drop this issue. Setbacks like what is happening at the Legislature will only inspire them to protest, vote and seek office to put adequate gun safety measures in place. “The conversation that is being avoided right now is going to happen,’’ Bernick-Roehr said. “We’re not going to forget who said no to it.”