ST. PAUL — The most likely path for getting a gun control bill through the Minnesota Legislature this year has expired.
No legislation to restrict guns has advanced in the Republican-controlled Legislature, although the GOP is promoting a variety of school safety plans.
Thursday, March 22, was the deadline for policy-based legislation (like gun control bills) to pass through a committee in order for it to traverse the typical route to become law. And while bills still could come up in a variety of ways, it is not likely.
On the deadline, 22 young people from Students Demand Action-MN staged a “die in,” barely moving a muscle, Thursday afternoon as the House began its session. The students did not talk, but an email about their protest said they would “peacefully protest gun violence.”
Some students had hand-written signs on them, including “Am I next,” “Government silence = gun violence,” “I am a bullet-free zone” and “This is the result of your inaction.”
Republican legislators generally walked through side entrances into the House chamber, avoiding the youths on the marble floor, but many Democrats walked past them into the main doors, some pausing to take pictures.
House Public Safety Chairman Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, whose committee has jurisdiction over gun legislation, said students have not requested a meeting with him.
He said that legislation written in an emotional time, such as now with school shootings fresh in people’s minds, often is bad legislation.
While overall gun-control legislation is stalled, one gun-related bill moved ahead. It would ban cities and counties from disarming law enforcement officers.
The bill by retired officer Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, received approval by Johnson’s committee Thursday. He said police need guns to protect themselves and the public.
The bill is in response to Democratic Rep. Ray Dehn’s proposal, made in his unsuccessful run for Minneapolis mayor, that not all officers would carry guns.
Grossell said he was shot early in his law enforcement career, and his partner shot and killed the suspect.
In the first month of its 2018 session, Johnson’s committee tabled a pair of bills, which received a hearing only because their sponsor, Rep. Dave Pinto, D-St. Paul, used a little-known rule to force one. Those bills were the only ones relating to gun control that received a hearing in the public safety committee this year.
One of Pinto’s bills calls for universal background checks for private gun sales in most cases. The other would allow police or family members to petition a court for a restraining order preventing a person from possessing a gun for a period of time.
While Johnson, the committee’s new chairman, had alluded to a strong Second Amendment stance before the session’s start, gun control proponents perceived serious momentum in the wake of Florida school shootings and subsequent upsurge of youth activism.
As the deadline approached this week, Pinto pleaded with committee members to bring them up again. The request was denied, largely — like the first time — along party lines with Democrats voting for taking up the bills and Republicans against them.
“Vote them out!” proponents of the bills chanted about Republicans as they left the meeting room.
Asked his thoughts regarding the year’s legislative efforts to address what happened in Florida, Johnson said, “We’re still looking at things to try to make sure not only kids in school are safe but the public is safe.”
In particular, Johnson pointed to bipartisan support to increase spending to improve the security of school buildings and to give students better access to mental health care. Additionally, there are Republican proposals for more armed security at schools.
Rob Doar, the political director of Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said in a written statement of this year’s session, “While we’re not out of the woods until the session is over, we’re thankful that bipartisan action on school safety and mental health … have prevailed against a well funded, out of state driven, gun control agenda.”
Erin Zamoff, state head of Moms Demand Action, a group that rallied to support the gun control bills, said, “We’re going to keep pushing for it. This is common sense. … But if they (legislators) don’t vote in favor, this is a voting issue in November and we will vote in people who will.”