Four state senators — two Republicans and two DFLers — said Monday that Minnesota should have universal background checks for gun sales and transfers, and that the state should make it mandatory to report lost or stolen firearms.
The lawmakers, who represent areas where there is strong support for gun rights, said the stories of high school students who are pleading for changes in gun laws compelled them to push for the politically risky gun control measures.
"We've all heard the thunder of the noise of Americans clamoring for action. Not again do we want one more tragedy to sort of evaporate into the horizon and we do nothing," said Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska. "We hear the thunder ... . We also hear the deafening silence of a lack of conversation in the halls of capitols around the nation."
The universal background check legislation would make it a gross misdemeanor to transfer or receive a gun without a check, with some exceptions. A second conviction would be a felony offense.
The mandatory reporting requirement would punish someone who does not report to law enforcement within two weeks of discovering that their firearm is lost or stolen. The first offense would be a petty misdemeanor, with escalating charges for future failures to report.
Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, authored the bills that were introduced Monday. He was joined Monday by Jensen, Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, and Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth.
Democrats have rolled out numerous gun control proposals at the Capitol this year, while Republicans have focused on school security, not guns.
Jensen and Anderson said they did not have the full support of the GOP caucus for the two measures. After the legislators announced the bills Monday at a news conference, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, sent out a statement critiquing the effort.
"Making our schools safer for Minnesota kids is a priority for Republicans," he said. "We can all agree on increasing the security of school buildings and improving mental health resources for students. There is no time to waste on ideas that don't work, or have no chance of passing the Legislature this year."
Jensen, a family practice doctor and National Rifle Association member, said he is willing to lose his seat over this measure, saying, "My conscience is my guide."
Anderson said he sees the gun control bills as one piece of a three-pronged approach to address gun violence in schools, along with improvements to school security and mental health services.
The other two elements appear to have broader bipartisan support. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton recently proposed $21 million for school building safety improvements, school-based mental health and intervention and support for expelled students.
Part of Dayton's plan resembled a proposal from Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, which had a hearing Monday. Her proposal would channel funding to school districts and charter schools to bolster security or add counselors and support staff.
The measures described Monday have not been scheduled for hearings, and there is not a companion bill in the House yet, Little said.
Little and other bill supporters said introducing the proposals is a first step and that the bills could be refined going forward.
"Saving students' lives is more important than anyone's partisan agenda," Little said. "Unfortunately, without meaningful bipartisan solutions, another school shooting is virtually inevitable."
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044