Hundreds crowd Capitol to rally against gun violence
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Hundreds of demonstrators in orange shirts and scarves filled the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, waving signs critical of the National Rifle Association, chanting “Save our kids!” and urging lawmakers to act to prevent more mass shootings of children.
Speakers ranging from legislators to high school students called for expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting that killed 17 students and teachers last week.
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, a Democrat from Roseville, exhorted those in the crowd to turn their passion into political action.
“It’s not enough to show up today. You have to show up and vote,” Becker-Finn said.
The anti-gun violence group Protect Minnesota, an organizer of the rally, is seeking support for a pair of bills related to guns and public health. One measure would let the state health department collect information on gun ownership for health research in a way that supporters say wouldn’t reveal identifiable information.
Sen. Matt Klein, a Democrat from Mendota Heights, said expanded data collection would allow public health professionals to study where gun violence and other factors like mental illness intersect.
“I think this is something gun owners can get behind,” Klein said. “You’ve got to find who the problem is and not blame all gun owners.”
Federal and state laws limit the type of information governments can collect on gun users and owners.
Sen. Warren Limmer, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said more information may be useful, but the bill would require careful discussion about privacy and effectiveness.
“I’m unsure how it would prevent an individual with a mental health history from getting a gun,” he said.
Another bill would direct $100,000 toward a pilot program aimed at reducing the trauma of gun violence, including support for people affected by suicides and homicides.
Protect Minnesota demonstrators also voiced support for legislation requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, including private transactions and purchases at gun shows online. Another bill would allow law enforcement and family members to petition courts to remove a person’s gun.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show some 1,300 people died from gun homicides or law enforcement intervention between 1999 and 2016 in Minnesota. Nearly 5,000 died from intentional self-inflicted gunshots over that same period.
But any new gun restrictions face difficult odds in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
In 2013, after the Newtown shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead in Connecticut, new gun restrictions foundered in the then-Democratic controlled Legislature, as proposals to expand background checks and ban assault rifles divided rural and urban Democrats.
“I think we’ll certainly talk about it,” said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican from Crown. “I know it feels good and it feels easy to just say we’re going to ban these weapons.”
Lawmakers are also considering a handful of pro-gun rights bills, including legislation allowing people to carry guns without a permit and so-called “stand your ground” laws, which allow people to use deadly force in defense of themselves or their homes.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton previously vetoed “stand your ground” legislation.
Rep. Jack Considine, a Democrat, is proposing a ban on bump stocks and similar accessories that drastically increase the rate of fire on certain rifles. Earlier this week, President Donald Trump directed the Justice Department to review the devices, which were used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre.
Limmer said he won’t “entertain ideas from the far left and the far right” in the Senate Public Safety Committee. Rep. Brian Johnson, the GOP chairman of a similar committee in the House, said he would move slowly on gun legislation.
“If you rush to legislation, you usually get it wrong,” said Johnson, a Republican from Cambridge.