BRAINERD, Minn. — Congressman Pete Stauber visited Brainerd Tuesday, June 1, for an intimate session with supporters regarding gun rights and the Second Amendment.

“I know that the Second Amendment is an important part of our way of life throughout Minnesota,” said Stauber, R-Hermantown. “We must remain vigilant to protect our rights, which is why I called you all here to have a robust discussion on how we can do this. … I want to hear from you. I want to hear stories, ideas, suggestions to make sure that we as law-abiding citizens and our rights aren't infringed upon. That the Second Amendment isn’t infringed.”

Stauber’s discussion drew roughly 30 people to the Brainerd Exchange, an event space at the Northern Pacific Center, in a conversation that mixed the personal and the political.

On one hand, Stauber said, the event was prompted by Democrats, where statements by President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and controversial nominees to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have drawn the ire of conservatives.

On the other hand, Stauber invoked personal experiences, starting with his own brushes with gun violence during his career as a Duluth police officer.

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Stauber recounted an attack on Republican lawmakers during a baseball practice in June 2017 that resulted in the wounding of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana. Scalise’s armed guards were the difference between life and death for many, Stauber said.

He also recalled the events of the Jan. 6 siege on Capitol Hill. Stauber himself grabbed a firearm during the upheaval, which reaffirmed in his mind the need for firearms to be safe and secure in America today.

These experiences demonstrate Stauber isn’t ignorant of the realities of gun violence in the United States, he said, and they also have shown, time and time again, the vital role that firearms play in the everyday lives and security of Americans.

Often, the discussion took on educational dimensions. Some participants advocated for more robust gun safety programs targeted at young people and students, some of which could be implemented in public schools. Others decried the lack of gun education among the general populace and Democrats in particular who, they said, are driven to push for gun control measures out of misguided fear.

Still, wading through contentious political discourse — no matter how genuine or well-meaning people are — is difficult when everything is weaponized by politicians and misconstrued by the media, said John Cumming, a resident of Brainerd and a board member of the Lakeshore Conservation Club. He said there’s a long history of the issue being fought in court and in the public sphere, with much of the truth being muddled by selfish actors.

“The point is this whole thing has been political from the get-go,” Cumming said. “The Supreme Court never ever said anything about weapons. They didn't name (specific) weapons. They just said you had a natural right to defend yourself. You could have a weapon of any kind to defend yourself.”

The discussion also drifted into elements of law enforcement. Supporters asked how Democrats could push to restrict access to firearms while simultaneously pushing to “defund police,” the same people who handle crime and violent criminals. One participant asked about reining in "overzealous" federal agencies. Some advocated for harsher measures to reduce criminal activity.

“Has anyone thought of working with (former New York Mayor) Rudy Giuliani? He had the stop-and-frisk program in New York and it worked. It was still legal,” said John Hooks of Crosby, Minn., who is Black and in favor of stop-and-frisk measures. “That's a temporary solution, right? Ask him or a member of his staff how they ended stop and frisk.”

According to civil rights organizations such as the New York Civil Liberties Union, stop-and-frisk practices by law enforcement — which were common in New York City between 2003 and 2013 — disproportionately targeted young Black and Latino men, which served as a violation of constitutional rights and evidence of racial bias.