Donald Trump’s election and surging Republican power in state legislatures are fueling a drive to dramatically expand gun rights across the nation.
At least 41 states, including Minnesota, are considering or have already passed measures this year to expand access to guns. Some would allow residents to carry handguns, either openly or concealed, without a government permit. Others would allow guns in places where they are currently banned, including schools, government buildings like post offices and libraries, and college campuses.
At the same time, gun control activists with fewer allies in political power are pushing to broaden background checks and ensure that weapons are removed from homes during domestic violence arrests.
Both sides in the divisive and emotional debate say Trump’s win was a catalyst for the flurry of activity. The new president left no doubt as a candidate that he strongly supports loosening gun restrictions.
“I believe it did change the political climate,” said Joseph Olson, an emeritus professor of law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance. “It is very unlikely that there [will] be any further restrictions that gain traction. That’s what he promised.”
The Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of Protect Minnesota, which works to end gun violence, said that what has changed “is that we have a hunger amongst the leadership both in Congress and here at home to expand the rights for anyone to carry any kind of firearm anywhere with absolutely no regulation.”
In Minnesota, voters on Nov. 8 gave Republicans control of both chambers of the Legislature, giving new life to the priorities of gun rights groups. The measure with the most momentum would expand the types of situations in which it is legal to take another person’s life — commonly called a “stand-your-ground” bill.
The House Public Safety Committee approved that measure Tuesday, and supporters expect a floor debate early May.
Gov. Mark Dayton does not support the bill, said spokesman Sam Fettig. Dayton vetoed a stand-your-ground bill in 2013, saying that Minnesotans facing threats already had legal authority to defend themselves.
Minnesota is among 18 states with proposed legislation on an emerging national initiative: permitless or constitutional carry bills that eliminate the need for gun permits. Supporters don’t expect it to advance here, and a measure that would make permits good for life also has stalled.
The debate here is unfolding as law enforcement reported issuing more than 71,000 gun permits in 2016 — a record.
Bills to tighten Minnesota regulations include proposals to require unlicensed private gun sellers to perform background checks; enable family members and law enforcement to ask a judge to take guns from individuals with violent histories; and set aside taxpayer funds for groups that oppose looser gun laws.
The author of the first two of those bills is Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, a Ramsey County prosecutor. He said that Trump’s election also mobilized support for reasonable gun regulations.
“It’s an issue that … hasn’t had as much salience for years,” he said. “People are more engaged in community issues and public issues.”
Still, given the Republican legislative majorities in St. Paul, gun control advocates have not been able to get their bills heard, much less voted on.
Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, sponsored the stand-your-ground and permitless carry bills. The election’s message, he said, was that “people who voted for President Trump were looking for a president that was going to be interested in preserving gun rights.”
Rick Wilder agrees. For 28 years he has owned Blaine’s Metro Gun Club, which has indoor and outdoor shooting ranges and offers classes that qualify people for gun permits.
He’s more worried about the challenges small businesses like his face, but he’s confident Trump won’t tolerate tighter gun laws.
“I don’t see a whole lot of change because everybody is concerned about upholding the Second Amendment and it’s still in force,” said Wilder, who voted for Trump.
He’s a strong believer in gun safety, but sees merit in allowing some adults to carry firearms in schools and strengthening stand-your-ground laws.
“I agree with President Trump that each state should go with what works best,” he said. “It comes down to knowledge and responsibility.”
During the campaign, Trump promised to eliminate gun-free zones in schools and military facilities on his first day in office. He didn’t. He also called for making concealed-carry rights like driver’s licenses, which are valid nationwide, and called concealed-carry “a right, not a privilege.”
The National Rifle Association endorsed Trump and donated $30.3 million to his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent group that tracks campaign giving.
“This is our historic moment to go on the offense and restore American greatness,” Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief executive, said in a video outlining legislative priorities.
The NRA is spending $1 million on television ads pressing four U.S. Senate Democrats — all from states that Trump won — to vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
Trump has revoked an Obama-era regulation that would have prevented an estimated 75,000 Social Security recipients with mental disorders from purchasing a gun.
Bills pending in Congress would require states to recognize the concealed-carry permits of other states, undo a federal law prohibiting guns in schools, and streamline the purchase of suppressors — or silencers — for firearms. Suppressors became legal in Minnesota in 2015.
The U.S. House passed a measure in March to allow veterans who have been labeled “mentally defective” by the Department of Veterans Affairs to buy guns.
The 2016 election offered some hope for opponents of expanded gun rights. Ballot measures in four states proposed tighter rules for gun buyers, and voters in California, Nevada and Washington state approved them.
But voters gave Republicans control of both legislative chambers in 32 states. Thirty-three states have Republican governors. That’s where much of the action is:
• The Iowa House passed legislation that includes a stand-your-ground provision and would allow the public to carry handguns in the Capitol.
“There’s really not much we as a party can do to stop this — or as a community,” state Rep. Ras Smith, a Democrat who opposed the measure, said in an interview.
• South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, on March 17 vetoed a bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed handguns without a permit and another that would have allowed concealed weapons in the Capitol. In a veto letter, Daugaard wrote that current laws “appropriately protect both interests.”
• North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, on March 23 signed legislation allowing most adults to carry a hidden firearm without a permit. It takes effect Aug. 1.
“Trump’s election and the pendulum swing for more gun freedoms” are “a pushback” prompted by efforts to tighten gun regulations under President Barack Obama, Republican state Rep. Rick Becker, the bill’s author, said in an interview.
Bryan Strawser, chairman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said he “would like to think” that public and legislative support for gun-rights laws is “a permanent change.” But he echoed Becker’s pendulum analogy: “It will swing back. It always does.”
In the meantime, he’s banking on Trump. “I certainly would hope the president would sign any gun legislation that crosses his desk,” he said.
Shannon Watts, founder of the national group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said it “knows how to play defense” and win in state legislatures and in court.
“Our elected leaders are listening to the gun lobby,” said Marit Brock of the group’s Minnesota chapter. “We’re working to make sure [they] are listening to Minnesota.”