Minnesota Democrats urge additional restrictions on firearms following Texas school massacre
Gov. Tim Walz and DFL lawmakers said that lawmakers should weigh changes to the state's gun laws during a special session, while Republicans noted that mental health was a more pressing issue in the Uvalde, Texas, shooting.
ST. PAUL — Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders at the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, May 26, said they'd push forward with efforts to re-write the state's gun laws during a possible legislative special session days after a mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school left 21 dead, including 19 children.
Minnesota has one of two divided state legislatures in the country where one party controls the Senate and the other controls the House of Representatives. In recent years, as House Democrats supported enacting red flag laws or background checks for gun purchases, the GOP-led Senate has blocked their passage.
And if lawmakers in the divided Statehouse failed to reach a deal to return to St. Paul, Democrats said they would bring the issue to the campaign trail in the run-up to the November election.
"We just need to not accept that this is normal. This does not happen in other countries, we are the outlier in the world on this. The common denominator is easy access to firearms," Gov. Tim Walz told reporters on Thursday after he filed for re-election.
Walz said he and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in 2018 ran on the issue of gun control and would again push to require enhanced background checks for gun purchases and allow law enforcement officers to come in and remove a person's firearms if a loved one believed they posed a risk to themselves or to someone else.
"Here we've been stonewalled (in the Senate)," Walz continued. "So yes, this will be an issue."
Scott Jensen, a physician and former state senator running to unseat Walz, at the state Republican Party Convention this month apologized for co-sponsoring a bill during his time in the state Senate that would expand background checks. And he said he was a gun owner and member of the National Rifle Association.
In a tweet on Wednesday, he said lawmakers should "courageously work — without ceasing — on the mental health crisis that daily devastates lives across America."
Texans, my heart is with you.— Scott Jensen (@drscottjensen) May 25, 2022
Let’s remember the victims, pray for the families, and courageously work - without ceasing - on the mental health crisis that daily devastates lives across America.
Minnesota lawmakers left the Capitol this week without taking up the issue of gun control. But some said the issue could come up for consideration if the governor calls them back into special session to take up other issues around spending the state's $9.25 billion budget surplus and passing a tax bill.
House Public Safety Committee Chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul urged lawmakers to renew conversations around restrictions for buying and securing firearms in the wake of the Texas shooting. And he said he would speak with Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, about gun safety provisions that could pick up support in both chambers. Limmer chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee and has previously opposed efforts to pass so-called "red flag" or background check legislation.
“I call on us here to fulfill our basic duty as state legislators and make laws to save the lives of people. And I call on voters to elect legislators who will advance gun safety," Mariani said. “I feel duty-bound, at the very least, to push for that kind of engagement and see where it takes us.”
Limmer, in response, said that violent crime had been a concern for Minnesotans for years and that Democrats at the Capitol had opposed Republicans' proposals to increase penalties for those who commit the offenses.
“Chair Mariani criticized our ‘tough on crime' approach, he tabled discussion on law enforcement, and failed to provide meaningful movement towards agreement," Limmer said in a statement. "A special session isn't going to change any of that.”
Republicans at the Capitol on Thursday said that Minnesota already had in place tight restrictions for buying and carrying a firearm and they said proposed changes to state law wouldn't have prevented the shooting in Uvalde.
"We need to actually get down to the root cause of the problem," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told reporters, "which is we're not addressing the mental health of folks in our state."
Advocacy groups in favor of tightening gun control laws in the aftermath of the shooting called on supporters to reach out to lawmakers to press for changes and urged them to support candidates that backed gun control measures. Meanwhile, gun owners' rights groups in Minnesota said efforts to use strong emotions stemming from the event were "shameful and exploitative."
"We remain committed to addressing real issues of public policy — and we’re always willing to be a part of a public debate on the issue of gun rights and the Second Amendment," Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus leaders said Wednesday in a news release.