Behind chants of “bring it up for a vote,” hundreds of gun control advocates joined Democratic state legislators Wednesday in urging the Republican-controlled Senate to take up two measures that are close to passing the House.
One of the loudest voices leading the charge at Wednesday’s rally inside the State Capitol rotunda came from First Lady Gwen Walz, who vowed electoral consequences if measures to expand background checks and adopt a red flag law don’t receive hearings and a vote this session.
“If they do not put it up for a vote, there are seven senators sitting in seats where Tim Walz won — and we are coming,” Gwen Walz said.
But Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, has promised to stand in the way of any new gun restrictions in his chamber. Gazelka, in an interview this week, said the issue would instead be taken up next year.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who chairs the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, echoed Gazelka’s wishes.
“With divided government that we have now, I think any gun bill will have to have a wide consensus in order to be seriously considered and passed in the Minnesota Legislature,” Limmer said.
The governor and House DFL leadership have been urging Senate hearings on the bills because they want a public account of which lawmakers support and oppose new gun restrictions. Speaking before the first House committee hearing on the two measures last month, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, added that if the Senate does not hear or move universal background check and red flag bills, they would be part of budget negotiations.
Hundreds of activists affiliated with the state’s chapter of Moms Demand Action, clad in the group’s red T-shirts, filtered throughout the Capitol on Wednesday to urge movement on the two measures prioritized since last year’s Parkland high school shootings.
One bill would expand criminal background check requirements to apply to all Minnesota gun sales, including transfers between private parties. The second measure, commonly called a “red flag bill,” would let relatives and authorities petition a judge for an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” that would remove a person’s firearms if they are determined to pose a threat of harming themselves or others.
“We were here on the first day of the legislative session and we have been calling, e-mailing and meeting with legislators ever since,” said Erin Zamoff, the chapter’s president. “And we are not going away.”
Both Gwen Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan pointed out that the governor’s recent budget proposal sets aside money anticipated to be used to enforce extreme risk protection orders and expanded background checks. Rob Doar, political director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, which opposes new restrictions, said he is confident his allies in the Senate won’t allow a hearing or a vote.
“The public has been heard in numerous House hearings,” he said. “I don’t see a Senate hearing adding anything productive to the conversation.”
Democratic House and Senate sponsors of the legislation also made their pitches for votes this session. Rep. Ruth Richardson, D-St. Paul, pointed to suicides representing the majority of gun deaths in the state as a “public health crisis.”
“We need to get to the root causes of why people are taking their own lives, but we also need to look at how they are taking their own lives,” Richardson said.
Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said he has been urging Limmer to hold hearings on the measures for 1 ½ years and that he believes public support is on their side.
“If [Gazelka] wants to keep his majority, they need to vote on these bills and they need to pass these bills in the state Senate,” Latz said.
Gwen Walz highlighted how her husband, an avid hunter and gun owner who once earned an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association, came to support measures like expanded background checks and red flag laws. She said his change came after listening to the activism of groups like the one she stood before Wednesday.
“We need to have that conversation every single day, every minute of every day until we have a vote on this bill,” Gwen Walz said.
Limmer later said he is unmoved by being targeted next election cycle over not taking up the bills this session.
“Bring it on,” he said.
Staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.