Erin Preese's reason for running for office tells a story about our times.

A Lakeville elementary school teacher and mother of two, Preese has seen her young daughters shove their stuffed animals into a corner while playing school to protect them from an imaginary "bad guy" roaming the halls with a gun. When she started teaching, Preese listened as a police officer fired an AR-15 inside the school to acclimate new teachers to gunfire.

"I was really angry that my lawmakers were just sitting comfortably at their desk in the Capitol while teachers were having to be trained for what seemed like a combat zone," Preese said.

Preese, a Democrat involved with the group Moms Demand Action, is one of the first gun safety activists in Minnesota to seek office. She's challenging state Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lake­ville, after having previously lobbied him to back universal background check and red-flag legislation.

Nationally, there's growing evidence that gun policy could loom large in state and federal races in 2020. This month's Democratic takeover of the Virginia General Assembly — for the first time in a quarter-century — put lawmakers and activists on notice. Just before the Virginia election, a Washington Post-Schar School poll found that three in four voters rated gun laws as "very important" in casting their ballots. Big majorities also backed expanding criminal background checks for gun sales and creating a "red flag" law that would let police take firearms from those ruled by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others — two leading DFL priorities in Minnesota.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has said that he would not follow Virginia and Wisconsin in calling special sessions on guns — both states saw such sessions fizzle in short order. But in a recent interview, Walz said he would still push the issue come February: "I'm going to try because I think it's a moral imperative," Walz said. "I'm not seeing a whole lot of movement, but there's going to be a desire to do that."

Recall that battle lines already have been drawn for 2020 after First Lady Gwen Walz vowed electoral consequences for those who blocked new gun bills. State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, had this rejoinder: "Bring it on."

Our own Star Tribune Minnesota Poll of 800 registered voters last month found strong support for universal background checks, with eight out of 10 voters across all regions of the state favoring the measure.

Preese has raised about $8,000 since entering the race this month, she said. Still, she faces an uphill climb against Koznick, a three-term incumbent who has won each of his last three races by wide margins. In an interview, Koznick preferred to underline his work on issues like transportation and taxes but also pointed to bills he's co-sponsoring that would toughen enforcement of existing gun laws.

"Somebody might simply run on gun control and that's fine, you're welcome do that," Koznick said. "It's certainly a conversation I'm willing to engage in, but I think the electorate has a broader attention span to issues that concern them every day."