Advocates calling for stricter firearms laws marked Thursday’s anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting by reading off the names of Minnesotans killed by gun violence, an issue Gov. Tim Walz said would be also be addressed in his upcoming budget proposal.
The ceremony came amid a renewed push to expand background checks for gun sales and introduce a “red flag” law that would let relatives or law enforcement petition judges to take firearms away from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
“These are not extreme or experimental measures,” said the Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of the nonprofit Protect Minnesota, which organized Thursday’s rally.
Bence noted the bipartisan support for legislation to address distracted driving and opioid abuse this session, while highlighting that more Minnesotans died from gun violence than from car crashes or overdoses last year: “We will not get all the names read in two hours even if we read straight through.”
Any new gun restrictions face formidable opposition at the Capitol.
Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, recently told supporters of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus that he would work to prevent any new gun laws from passing this session, and Republicans gained another seat to create a 35-32 advantage upon Jason Rarick’s special election victory this month.
“I will do everything in my power to stop that,” Gazelka said recently of new gun restrictions.
The Feb. 14, 2018, slayings of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School galvanized a national gun control movement led by students. Minnesota Democrats want to cement the issue in the party platform. Democrats won control of the state House on the strength of strong performances in the suburbs last year, with many newcomers pledging to push stricter gun measures.
“This is how we make the conditions ripe to bring forward solutions to problems that we weren’t able to bring forward before,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park.
Thursday began with an event that was equal parts a news conference and rally, with Protect Minnesota members outnumbering reporters in the press room. Noticeably absent were any Republican lawmakers, whose Senate leaders have expressed resistance to similar bills introduced in that chamber.
Democrats and advocates are applying pressure to senators up for re-election in suburban districts next year. House Democrats on Thursday acknowledged that gun control supporters were responsible for making the issue one of the party’s core priorities this year.
Opponents of the two measures have labeled them as overly broad and lacking due process. The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, which is planning an annual rally for later this month at the Capitol, has deployed a full time lobbyist who regularly attends committee meetings and recently led a news conference rebutting the rollout of this session’s Senate proposals.
“Nobody wants to see someone injured by a firearm. I mean, that’s ludicrous to assume otherwise, ludicrous to assume we would support anything like that,” Rob Doar, the group’s political director said recently, later adding: “Ultimately we still believe that the gun shouldn’t be treated differently than a car or a knife or any other product that you would want to buy.”
The governor meanwhile recognized the Parkland anniversary in a Thursday tweet that stated the “time to take action is now,” signaling that he would outline new measures to address gun violence in his Feb. 19 budget proposal.
“We must keep our communities safe — and I look forward to working with #mnleg, law enforcement, and advocates on gun violence prevention measures,” Walz wrote. “More to come in my budget.”
“The political dynamic has changed and now we know that things have to happen,” said Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley. “And it’s not because there haven’t been people for a long time that wanted it to — but the sense that the urgency is now to finally do the right thing is here like it has never been before.”
The roughly 1,200 cards sent to lawmakers, the governor and attorney general on Thursday included stories dating to 1998, written by the mother of a woman killed by her friend’s husband, who also killed his wife and himself.
Thursday’s speakers included Athena Adkins, whose husband worked at the North Star Criminal Defense law firm where clerk Chase Passauer, 23, was gunned down in 2016. The shooter, Ryan Petersen, had hired Adkins’ husband, Dan, and went to the firm to confront him.
“We’re coming up on the three-year anniversary of Chase’s death and I have watched everyone who loves Chase be broken,” Adkins said. “And there’s no fixing us. Every time that I go to a march or come to the Capitol I wonder if this is the day: Is this the day that somebody opens fire?”
Muna Galbayte, an Eden Prairie High School senior who has organized alongside other students rallying for new gun laws, noted the lack of action at the Capitol in the year since the Parkland shooting and vowed that “the youth of Minnesota are going to be voting in the next election.”
“I wish I could stop being so afraid but no one can look me in the eyes and tell me that I’m safe at school,” Galbayte said.