Lawmakers returning to the State Capitol for the start of the 2020 legislative session on Tuesday will encounter what has become an Opening Day ritual.
Hundreds of activists calling for new gun regulations will be decked out in color-coded attire. But with background check legislation and other gun safety measures stymied by opposition in the GOP-led Senate, the focus of this year’s debate will be as much on November’s elections as it is on passing significant new state restrictions on firearms.
Enter the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, which is rolling out a $250,000 digital blitz to pressure Minnesota state senators on gun control legislation through ads targeting voters in their districts around the state. The group intends to focus on suburban and black women voters — two demographic segments seen as critical to winning back control of the state Senate this year.
The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus also is ramping up efforts, urging supporters to help raise $50,000 this month, money that can be used to protect pro-gun lawmakers in tough races.
On the gun control side, the Everytown for Gun Safety organization, backed by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, is planning to spend $60 million nationwide in 2020 — double its investment during the 2018 midterm elections. The surge in spending underscores the growth of gun control advocacy in an age of mass shootings. It also comes as the National Rifle Association — the gun industry’s main lobbying group — remains embroiled in internal discord and leadership battles.
The spending spree is being timed with the release of a new poll by the Global Strategy Group finding that eight in 10 Minnesota voters support expanding background checks to cover private sales of firearms. More than seven in 10 also consider a candidate’s views on guns “very important” to their vote in 2020, the poll found.
“It’s never been clearer: Minnesotans overwhelmingly support stronger gun laws and are tired of lawmakers refusing to take action to end gun violence in our communities,” said Molly Leutz, a volunteer for the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action, which is affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety. “So this session we’re putting the Minnesota state Senate on notice: They can either listen to the public and pass meaningful gun safety laws, or we’ll make sure that voters hold them accountable in 2020.”
Groups defending gun rights, which historically outspend gun control groups at the federal level, are taking notice — and fighting back.
“We’re being significantly outraised and outspent by the anti-gun groups in Minnesota,” Bryan Strawser, executive director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, wrote in an e-mail to supporters last week.
Rob Doar, the group’s political director, said it wants to spend $100,000 through its political action fund this election cycle, which would be a dramatic increase from the $15,000 it spent in 2018.
Said Doar: “Our biggest strength is mobilizing the grassroots.”
Let the fundraising battle begin.