ST PAUL, Minn. — The Texas school attack is reverberating across the nation and Minnesota is no exception. But the prospects remain dim for gun control reforms in the state's politically divided legislature.
Republican lawmakers and candidates who gathered to launch their 2022 campaign effort Thursday said voters are more interested in pocketbook issues like inflation than they are in firearms reforms.
"As far as gun control, we obviously already have some of the strictest laws in the country," House Majority Leader Kurt Daudt told reporters.
An 18-year-old Uvalde, Texas man killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School Tuesday. He used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle he had legally purchased one week earlier.
"As we talk about what happened in Texas the laws that have been proposed here in Minnesota would not have prevented that. What we have is a mental health crisis and we need to address that."
Those arguments are similar to arguments made in the State Capitol in 2018 and 2019 when the legislature debated bills that would've required universal background checks and enabled families to seek red flag early warning court orders.
"We're not talking about taking away guns," Rep. Carlos Mariani, the St. Paul Democrat who heads the House Public Safety Committee, told reporters Thursday.
"We're talking about safety, common sense measures. Let's start there."
Latino lawmakers, educators and parents appeared at the Capitol Thursday urging the state's leaders to take some action in the wake of the Uvalde attack.
"When we take our kids to school as parents, we don't know if our kids are going to come back, and that is losing our freedom," Paula Cole, a career teacher and member of the Richfield School Board told reporters.
Emilia Gonzales Avalos, the executive director of Unidos Minnesota read off the names of the Uvalde victims, saying they deserved more protection from the adults who run the country.
"No money, no deep pocket can be more important than the lives of our little ones."
History of divide
The gun control movement peaked in Minnesota in 2018 after the Parkland, Florida school attack. Gun control supporters held rallies and marches at the State Capitol, including one that featured Parkland survivors.
The bills passed the DFL-controlled Minnesota House but couldn't gain traction in the GOP-controlled Minnesota Senate. Sen. Warren Limmer, the Maple Grove Republican who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, delayed holding hearings for the bills.
He told KARE 11 at the time he worried that universal background checks could morph into universal firearms registration. Gun control opponents are against registration because they believe it could become the first step toward government confiscation of firearms.
Universal background check laws require person-to-person private sales of guns to be processed by a licensed firearms dealer, who can run a criminal background check on the person on the receiving end of the gun transfer. Most proposed legislation, including H.R. 8 in Congress, allow exceptions for gifts and sales to relatives, and loaning guns for target practice and hunting excursions.
Some Iron Range lawmakers have opposed universal background checks in the past, asserting it would be very inconvenient to go through a licensed dealer who may be 50 to 60 miles away from the people involved in the gun transaction. They say such regulations put an onerous burden on law abiding citizens.
"I think planning a funeral for a 9-year-old is more of an inconvenience right now," Democratic Gov. Tim Walz told reporters Thursday, moments after he and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan filed to run for second term.
"This does not happen in other countries. We are the outlier in the world on this and the common denominator is easy access to these firearms."
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen is calling for expansion of self-defense rights, including a castle doctrine and "stand your ground" law that allows legal gun owners to ward off attacks anywhere they are without fear of prosecution. He also wants a constitutional amendment establishing the right to carry firearms, which is now allowed by statute only.
As a state senator in 2018, Jensen co-sponsored one of the universal background check bills in the Senate. But Jensen told GOP state convention delegates earlier this month he regretted that decision, and nobody can question his support of the Second Amendment's right to bear arms.