A Minnesota House panel halted two gun control measures in party-line votes Thursday, foiling the hopes of supporters who wanted to seize on national and local momentum spurred by the recent school shooting in Florida.
“I know you’re under a lot of pressure to do something, but that doesn’t mean you have to act recklessly,” Sarah Cade, a member of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, told lawmakers at a House Public Safety Committee hearing with an overflow crowd. Impassioned testimony came from the other side of the issue, too.
“How much are our lives worth to you?” said Eva Goldfarb, a St. Louis Park High School junior.
Many gun-related bills have been proposed at the State Capitol this year, and Rep. Mark Uglem, R-Champlin, said it would be prudent to review all of them and do more research before voting on the two bills.
Republican leaders of the House and Senate, however, have given no indication they’re interested in any major changes to Minnesota gun laws this year. The 10 Republicans on the 16-person House committee all voted to table the protective order bill. Nine of them opted to sideline the background check bill. Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, was the lone Republican who supported moving it forward.
Supporters and opponents alike packed Capitol hallways as the committee hearing commenced, with supporters hoping to change the political dynamic. Opponents applauded the decision to table the measures, saying the bills would intrude on Second Amendment rights without reducing violence.
One of the proposals reviewed Thursday would expand Minnesota’s background check requirements, so private gun sales and most gun transfers would necessitate a criminal-background check. The other bill would allow police or family members to ask the court for a gun violence protective order to temporarily prohibit someone from having firearms.
The bills would keep weapons away from dangerous people without infringing on gun owners’ rights, said Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, who proposed them.
Rob Doar, with the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, disagreed. He said both bills would be unconstitutional.
“Our Constitution guarantees that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process. This bill is confiscation without due process. Period,” Doar said of the protective order proposal.
Second Amendment advocates at the hearing wore pins that said “due process matters.” They said the gun violence protective orders would deny people that process.
Gun control supporters, dressed in their signature blaze orange and red shirts, were making their third appearance en masse at the State Capitol this legislative session to support the bills.
People on both sides of the debate shared emotional stories.
“This bill allows civil rights to be stripped,” Cade, an X-ray technician from Maplewood, said of the protective orders. It treats Second Amendment rights “like an episode of ‘Judge Judy,’ ” she said.
Gun violence protective orders would be dangerous and counterproductive, Cade said. She said the bill could discourage people from seeking mental health treatment.
Goldfarb, however, said the legislation is critical. She told lawmakers she and some of her friends have had dreams about a shooting at their school, and that her friend’s family was decimated by gun violence. An 8-year-old she knows has light-up shoes, Goldfarb told the committee, and the girl asked for a new pair so the lights would not give her location away in the event of a school shooting.
Gun control supporters, Goldfarb said, “are committed. Gun reform is no longer a question of if but a question of when. And the answer is right now.”
Numerous lawmakers across the country have introduced similar background check and protective order legislation, following the school shooting last month in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed.
Republican state senators recently proposed another route to combat gun violence in schools. They suggested using a safe school revenue program to direct funding to schools, where local officials would be able to improve security as they see fit.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, has introduced legislation similar to Pinto’s in the Senate. He has heard from Republicans who support it, he said, but “when it comes down to getting a hearing and getting a vote, those are different things.”
Pinto took an unusual route to get a hearing for his two bills at the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee. He had previously asked on the House floor for the committee’s chairman, GOP Rep. Brian Johnson of Cambridge, to hold a hearing on both proposals. Johnson would not commit to that.
So Pinto applied a rarely used parliamentary rule to trigger hearings in the committee.
Pinto said it was difficult to decide to take that path, but told fellow committee members: “We are facing a crisis.”
Doar said while many people mention a gun violence epidemic, the rate of firearm homicides has dropped significantly since the 1990s.