ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Leading up to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, a coalition of gun control advocates presented their own version of the national report card Monday at the State Capitol.
"The state of our union is bereaved, shocked and horrified by the problem of gun violence," Rabbi Amy Eilberg told reporters.
Eilberg, a consultant at the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas, said that the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass killing in Newtown, Connecticut stirred her to be more vocal on this issue.
"As a rabbi, an American and a mother, the death of so many children in what should be absolutely safe place -- their school --was unbearable."
Jane Kay, a member of One Million Moms for Gun Control, urged lawmakers to stop looking at gun reforms as an all-or-nothing proposition.
"How could any lawmaker respond to that by insisting nothing can be done?" Kay asked.
"Instead of asking whether every single life will be saved, ask if one life could have been saved?"
The President is asking Congress to pass what he terms common sense gun control legislation, including universal background checks for all gun buyers and a ban on the sale of military-style semi-automatic assault rifles.
"I have seen blood running down our streets," Rev. Harding Smith of the Spiritual Church of God in Brooklyn Center told reporters.
"Our children are our treasures. There's going to be a lot more murders if we don't do something."
One week ago, Obama chose North Minneapolis to make his first speech on the issue outside of Washington D.C. He's expected to address the topic, among other issues, Tuesday evening during his annual speech to a joint session of Congress.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, part of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, urged members of Congress to get behind the president's initiative.
"We talk about some of these places like they're battles in the Civil War; we talk about Sandy Hook or Tucson or Virginia Tech or Columbine or Aurora," Coleman remarked.
"We have to stop talking about them like they're some historic event, and realize that unless we act they're future events."
As Coleman spoke, an unnamed gun rights supporter entered the room in the State Office Building where the event was being held. He was holding up a large "Don't Tread on Me" flag, done in the style of the Revolutionary War banners.
"I'd like to have a sign held up by children, saying 'Don't shoot on me'," Coleman said, after the man had left the room quietly.
"I believe in the right to own a gun, but I also believe there's some common sense steps that need to be taken in order for us to protect our children."
State Capitol backdrop
The protester is among many who've made the journey to the State Capitol to make themselves heard in the debate of efforts by state lawmakers to enact gun control bills in Minnesota.
Members of the NRA and the Gun Owner Civil Rights Alliance crowded into a House committee hearing room and filled two overflow viewing rooms for five hearings last week.
One day they brought unloaded rifles in order to demonstrate the differences between military style sporting rifles and traditional long guns used in hunting.
The bill they object to most would ban the new sales of semi-automatic "assault weapons" to average citizens. The measure defines those based on physical characteristics, rather than by brand name and model.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a Democrat from the Iron Range of northeastern Minnesota, said he doesn't own any assault rifles, but that depends on whether those rifles will fall into that category.
"I don't own an A-R 15," Bakk said, referring to popular semi-automatic rifle that has the appearance of a military weapon.
"I own a lot of semi-automatics. The first one I bought when I was in the 11th grade. It's a Remmington 308, and it's what I used for deer hunting."
He said many Minnesota families have a tradition of passing firearms down from one generation to the next, and some of those guns have old stories attached to them.
"I can't buy any more because my gun safe's full. I don't know what's in there, but I've got several that my dad gave me. I didn't buy all of them."
He said those family connections are one of the reasons gun owners become emotional at the thought of giving up their weapons, by choice or otherwise.
None of the bills that are pending would result in guns being forfeited by living gun owners. One provision in the ban on assault rifles would require those who inherit such guns surrender them in four months, or to render them unusable.
A State Senate committee will take up a variety of gun control measures during the third week of February.
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