Gov. Tim Walz branded Minnesota Republicans on Wednesday as an “island of resistance” to increased gun safety in the state.
Speaking to reporters at the State Capitol, Walz said that GOP leaders in Florida, Ohio and other states have supported versions of expanded background checks and “red flag” laws. But there have been few cracks in the GOP’s longstanding opposition to new gun restrictions in Minnesota.
“There has been one island of resistance, and that is the Minnesota Republican Senate, on having a conversation,” Walz said.
Later in the day, speaking to more than 1,000 people at a rally on the Capitol steps, Walz sharply criticized Republicans who say tightening restrictions on firearms wouldn’t prevent all gun violence, equating that argument with “the same logic” as someone who says traffic laws can’t prevent all accidents. Walz also said it’s wrong to be “demonizing those with mental health issues” as the real problem rather than laws that allow easy access to weapons.
The rally, sponsored by the groups Protect Minnesota and Moms Demand Action, featured emotional speeches by Walz, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and others, and was punctuated by shouts of “Do something!” and “Not one more!” from the crowd.
During his speech, Walz cited the “sadness and the anger and the primal rage” of once again seeing the flag flying at half-staff over the State Capitol in the wake of another mass shooting. During his 24 years in the Army National Guard, Walz said he fired all kinds of military weapons and believes many of those “damn things don’t belong on the streets in our country.”
Phillips urged his GOP colleagues in Congress to join the cause on a national scale, declaring that “change is coming” in America’s approach to gun control that doesn’t have to trample on Second Amendment rights.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi cited a triple shooting a couple of hours earlier in Maplewood that wounded three people, one critically, as the latest example of gun violence locally. Universal comprehensive background checks could make a difference in helping prevent such bloodshed, he said.
“All of you have to keep at it,” he told the crowd. “People talk about this tipping point, but this is tipped.”
In addition to background checks, speakers called for a ban on assault rifles and for the passage of red flag laws, which would allow police or family members to petition a state court to order temporary removal of firearms from a person who might present a danger to himself or others.
Among the St. Paul rally attendees were scores of Protect Minnesota activists wearing orange T-shirts with the slogan “Minnesotan Against Getting Shot.”
Peter Lindstrom and his teenage son, Zach, held a homemade sign behind the podium that asked, “Am I next?”
Lindstrom, the former mayor of Falcon Heights and a member of the Metropolitan Council, said he wanted to teach his son a “productive way to contribute our voice to society.”
“I don’t want to die,” said Zach, an incoming eighth-grader who said he sometimes fears going to school. “It’s only a matter of time before [a mass shooting] happens here.”
As a small-game hunter, Peter Lindstrom is a gun owner himself and secures two firearms in his home with trigger locks. But he doesn’t support the availability of “military-style assault rifles.”
“We need to really be visual and put pressure on our elected leaders,” he said. “How many tragedies do we need to have before we see action?”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said earlier this week that most gun sales are already subject to background checks, and that expanding them to private sales would not solve the problem of gun violence.
Gazelka did not address red flag laws, but one other GOP state senator said Wednesday that state Republicans might take a look at some version of red flag legislation, which appears to be less controversial than gun control proposals like universal background checks or bans on so-called assault weapons.
“I don’t think the Republican caucus is opposed to anything that will actually make a difference,” said Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia. “The two bills proposed last year wouldn’t have had any effect on either the Ohio shooter or realistically the El Paso shooter, because both of these guys would have passed a background check.”
Now, or next legislative session?
Lang said that the Senate GOP is “absolutely” still united in opposition to the two bills championed by DFLers and gun safety proponents.
But he said Senate Republicans might consider another version of a red flag law.
The Legislature is going to have to hold hearings on how to prevent shootings when the regular session starts in February 2020, Lang said.
Lang said he agrees with Walz that a shooter’s mental health should not be the focal point. But he said that mental health should be a piece of the conversation when looking at preventing future shootings. “We would be doing an injustice not to include it in the conversation,” Lang said.
Walz insisted that action doesn’t have to wait until the next legislative session.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m not waiting on Mitch McConnell. I trust Minnesota to fix this,” he said to huge applause at Wednesday night’s rally. “Let’s have the vote.”
“With this pen, I’ll sign it into law.”
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.