Minn. DC delegation, officials react to Obama gun plan

Executive orders
News photographers make images of the executive orders U.S. President Barack Obama signed regarding the administration's new gun law proposals in the Eisenhower Executive Office building Jan. 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Barack Obama's series of proposals to reduce gun violence announced Wednesday drew a mix of reactions from Minnesota's Congressional delegation and prominent local officials.

The changes are in response to the massacre by a lone gunman last month at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults.


After many years where gun violence was simply off the political radar in Washington, DFL Sen. Al Franken said it took the shocking deaths of small children to re-open a national conversation about the role of guns in American society.

"I think there has been a sea change in people's attitudes," Franken said.

A little over a month since the massacre, Obama laid out his proposals Wednesday. Some of it involves executive orders to share more information between law enforcement agencies, requiring federal law enforcement agencies to trace all firearms they recover and finalizing mental health coverage rules so that potential shooters might get treatment instead of going on a rampage. (Read a summary of Obama's proposal.)

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Other moves involve making sure that the main federal agency that oversees firearms is fully staffed. Obama on Wednesday said he will nominate B. Todd Jones to lead the agency, and urged the Senate to confirm him.

Before becoming the acting head of ATF, Jones was Minnesota's U.S. Attorney, responsible for prosecuting cases for the federal government.


Obama, Biden
President Barack Obama speaks on proposals to reduce gun violence as Vice President Joe Biden watches on Jan. 16, 2013 in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. On Wednesday, Obama will sign 23 executive actions to curb gun violence and demand Congress pass an assault weapons ban and other sweeping measures in response to the Newtown massacre.

Standing on the stage behind Obama was Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak along with mayors from a number of other cities, including Newtown, Conn.

Speaking afterward by cellphone, Rybak said many of the president's proposals should be easy to support even for gun rights advocates.

"Let's make sure that we let law enforcement work together and not have some person in Congress trying to step between two law enforcement officials when they try to help a parent find out where a gun came from that killed their kid. This is common sense," Rybak said.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, a hunter himself, said it's time for the national conversation on gun control to go in what he called "a different direction."

"I think this is a seminal moment for the country to decide are we going to be reasonable, are we going to protect our children, are we going to protect our community?" Coleman said.


Now Congress will have to take the next step on Obama's other proposals, which includes limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, banning assault-style weapons and ending a major loophole in gun laws by requiring background checks for guns sold at gun shows.

Franken and fellow Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar will have a front seat in that process; both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee which will begin major hearings on gun violence two weeks from now.

Klobuchar, a former prosecutor, thinks Senate Republicans might agree to some parts of Obama's plan.

"I think you start with everything in terms of recommendations and see what's doable," Klobuchar said. "But there's clearly been a lot of interest in the public on the background check issue, the mental health issue and on some of the high-capacity magazines."


But it's a different story in the Republican-controlled House, where some members have described any attempts to tighten gun regulation as "tyranny."

None of Minnesota's three Republican House members would speak for this story, citing busy travel schedules.

In a written statement, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen said he planned to review Obama's proposals "carefully" and would "explore all potential policies to help prevent violence and protect individuals' Second Amendment rights."

Still, DFL Rep. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis thinks the president made the right call with his proposals.

"I mean, should he not propose it because his odds aren't really, really good?" Ellison said.

The other two House members to watch on this issue are Democrats Collin Peterson and Tim Walz. Both represent rural districts and have been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

The National Rifle Association said in a statement responding to the Obama proposal that "attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation."

Peterson and Walz generally vote in favor of the powerful lobbying organization's interests in Congress though after the Sandy Hook killings, Walz has said he's willing to consider additional steps such as an assault weapons ban.

Neither were available for interviews but in a statement, Peterson said there were "some good ideas, some bad ideas, and some new ideas" in Obama's proposal but that he would have to study them more closely before taking a stand.

The next round of this debate will take place in the hearing rooms of Congress.

In addition to the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings, 2nd District Republican John Kline issued a statement announcing that the House Education and Workforce Committee he chairs will hold hearings on school safety "in the coming weeks."

MPR reporters Laura Yuen and Elizabeth Baier contributed reporting.