ST PAUL, Minn. — First Lady Gwen Walz stood in the Minnesota Capitol Rotunda Thursday afternoon and promised this legislative session will bring action on gun reforms in Minnesota.
"There will be hearings on meaningful reforms!" Mrs. Walz told a crowd of gun control supporters wearing the familiar red tee-shirts of the Moms Demand Action campaign.
She noted that her first rally appearance as the first lady was in 2018, also on the topic of guns. That year, and every year since then, proposed firearms reforms have been stalled in the partisan divide.
This time around pro-reform Democrats control the House, the Senate and the Governor's Office.
"We are the state leading for children, leading for families, leading for climate, leading for women's reproductive rights and leading for gun legislation!"
Shannon Watts, the founder of the Moms Demand Action movement, thanked Minnesotans for their persistence around the issue of firearms reforms and gun violence.
"This is not controversial to anyone in this country. This issue is not polarizing. It is only polarizing to the gun extremists who have been elected as lawmakers," Watts told the crowd.
Four bills are pending in the Minnesota House, including a universal background check bill that would create a federal database check on private gun transactions between individuals. Licensed firearms dealers are already required to conduct background checks on buyers.
Another measure, the "Red Flags Bill," would allow families to petition a judge for an extreme risk protection order that would temporarily remove a gun from a person in a mental health crisis.
Gun rights groups oppose all the bills in their current form. They say the background checks expansion will be burdensome to responsible, law-abiding gun owners because it will also cover "transfers" such as gifts and loaning guns.
Their harshest criticism is of the extreme protection orders bill.
"The red flags laws have the most direct constitutional issues with the right to due process, to hear witnesses against you," Rob Doar of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus told KARE 11.
"The whole idea you can get a secret court order to deprive somebody of their property just based on an accusation."
Doar said the focus should instead be on the person in crisis.
"If somebody is in a legitimate mental crisis, at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, removing the firearm doesn’t address the person in crisis."
Maggiy Emery, who leads the gun violence prevention group Protect Minnesota, said the temporary red flag order is about buying families and care providers time to help a person.
"The VA’s guidance around someone who is experiencing a suicidal crisis and has access to a firearm is 'put time and space' in between a person in a crisis and a firearm," Emery explained.
"We're trying to do whatever we’re able to do. If we’re able to prevent one death, it’s worth it, but obviously the goal is to prevent as many as we can."
That was the sentiment expressed by another speaker at the rally, Latanya Black, the founder of Mothers Against Community Gun Violence. She created the group after her daughter Nia Black was shot and killed in the summer of 2020.
"At the hearing on these bills I heard a representative say, 'We can’t legislate our way out of gun violence.' I thought to myself as she was saying that, 'So doing absolutely nothing is the answer?' I don’t think so!"