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Gun control supporters rally to pressure Senate to take up background check, 'red flag' bills

Supporters of a pair of gun control bills gathered at the Capitol Wednesday, March 13, to urge Minnesota senators to hold a hearing for the proposals. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Hundreds of gun control supporters rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 13, to put pressure on Minnesota senators to take up a pair of bills aimed at limiting gun violence.

The measures up for consideration would require background checks at the point of purchase or transfer of firearms and allow family members, law enforcement officers and government attorneys to seek court orders taking away guns from persons determined to be an “extreme risk” if living in a home with guns.

Both bills have passed through Minnesota House committees, and leaders in that chamber said they would approve them. But the holdup is in the Senate, where Republican lawmakers hold a three-vote majority. Lawmakers brought the proposals in 2018, but they didn't get a hearing.

Senate leaders said they're too busy to hold a committee hearing on the measures or don't view them as a top legislative priority this year. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he'd given authority to the chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety to decide which bills he'd weigh. With hundreds of bills up for consideration and a May deadline to write a two-year budget, Gazelka said the gun proposals shouldn't be a priority.

“I want his primary focus to be the budget, we have to get that done this year," Gazelka said. "Next year he can pick up a lot of other issues if he wants, and guns certainly would be one of those he could consider."

Gun control proponents said they'd keep pushing to get the bills a hearing. And if senators weren't willing, they'd campaign to vote them out of office in 2020.

"We are not going away," Erin Zamoff of Moms Demand Action Minnesota told a group of supporters in the Capitol rotunda. "It is time for the Minnesota Senate to hold hearings and for Minnesota senators to show their constituents where they stand."

Democrats have said they won the majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2018 because gun control advocates rallied to get them elected. And Republican lawmakers should keep that in mind when weighing whether to vote on the bills, DFL lawmakers said.

"I think Sen. Gazelka has had his feet in cement on this issue," Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said. "But I think he should remember that if the Senate had been up for election last November he would not be in control."

Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman have dug in on the issue and committed to making the gun debate part of the end-of-session budget battles if it comes to that. Gov. Tim Walz, as part of his budget proposal, included funding for both bills.