Gov. Tim Walz and other Minnesota leaders stood with former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Thursday to urge lawmakers to pass bills aimed at curbing gun violence.
Three days after a fatal school shooting in Nashville, Walz and others said that this would be the year that the Minnesota Legislature adopts measures that require background checks for private sales and other transfers of handguns and assault rifles and allow temporary removal of guns from people determined by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others.
Both bills previously stalled out at the Capitol under divided government. But with DFL leaders in control of the Legislature and governor’s office, lawmakers said they were confident that they would move forward the proposals this year.
Democrats hold a one vote majority in the Senate, and they’ve not yet said whether they have the votes in their caucus to advance the bills.
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“I'm cautiously optimistic that we're going to get to 34 (votes) on this. And we're going to keep working until we do,” Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-Saint Louis Park, said.
Walz said the public supports the proposals and that Republicans, not Democrats, should be held to account if they come up short.
"You are not going to frame this that ‘This is taking your guns,’” Walz said. “Because I'm going to frame it as ‘You're not sticking up for our children, that you're not doing things that — for goodness sakes — Republicans in Florida passed this!’"
Police leaders and prosecutors, along with gun control advocates and people who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence, have said the bills could help prevent gun deaths in Minnesota. Opponents, meanwhile, said the proposals infringe on the rights of gun owners and that existing laws should be better enforced instead.
“Rather than an extreme all-or-nothing approach on guns, we can and should come together to protect lives with ideas that everyone supports, and that we know will work,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said, instead recommending funding to let school districts increase security at schools. “This isn’t the time to score political points and win elections, it’s time to do something that will actually save lives."
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat representing Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District, on Wednesday said he was open to requiring armed guards at public schools.
Asked about that proposal, Walz said he opposed it.
“It's a military term to harden the perimeter. We don't need to harden the perimeter to our schools,” he said. “We need to make sure that guns aren't in our schools and that the shooters are not there. I think that's the way I want to approach it.”
Such a measure has not gained support in the state Legislature, but Sen. Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville, said the state should fund $100 million in grants that can help schools implement safety plans to deal with shooting threats or natural disasters. He introduced a bill that would do that, but it has yet to receive a hearing.
“I know sometimes in the light of very tragic events, like what recently happened, the rhetoric can get a little out of control, and it's easy to point fingers and vilify each other. But at the end of the day, that doesn't help our kids. It doesn't keep them safe in school,” Duckworth said.
“There are many other things we could consider as well. But one thing I know for sure is this bill, if enacted quickly, will save lives. And I think that is something both Republicans and Democrats can get behind,” he continued.
Giffords was shot in the head during a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011. In the time since, she has been gradually recovering from the injury. She’s also led a national campaign to adopt stricter gun laws.
“My own recovery has taken years. Many, many people have helped me along the way. And I learned so much. I learned when people care for each other and work together, progress is possible. The world is possible,” Giffords said. “But change doesn't happen overnight. And we can't do it alone. Join me, let's move ahead together.”