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Gun Safety Advocates Call For Stronger Minnesota Laws, Though Policy Action Appears Unlikely

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Gun safety advocates returned to the capitol in-person on Wednesday for the first time since the pandemic began two years ago to urge the Minnesota Legislature to expand background checks for all gun sales and approve "red flag" laws.

But the outcome this year is likely to be similar to previous years: The proposals will stall. 

"There's a lot going on in the world, we certainly acknowledge that," said Molly Leutz, the state lead for Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group founded following the Sandy Hook shooting. "It's time to stop putting people dying on the back burner. It's frustrating."

There have been no hearings on legislation so far this year, as a deadline looms next week. Two years ago, the DFL-controlled Minnesota House approved both a background checks bill and a gun control measure that would allow courts to issue a temporary order removing firearms from a person who may be harmful to others or themselves -- a "red flag law."

Split control of the capitol between Republicans and Democrats complicates the outlook, though gun rights advocates haven't seen their bills move, either.

Rob Doar, senior vice president of Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said he wants a bill passed that clarifies Minnesota laws on self-defense, like "stand your ground" laws states have approved elsewhere.

"That's what's a little confusing and frustrating to us is the Senate GOP messaging has been very strong on public safety and, you know, stopping crime, and this bill goes right along with that goal and that narrative," Doar said of the lack of legislative action.

Moms Demand Action - Gun Safety Advocates
(credit: CBS)

Inaction on gun legislation of any kind may be tangled up in election year politics, said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University. Every seat in the legislature is up for grabs, and the balance of power is at stake.

"In a very odd way, both sides might be taking a risk-adverse strategy," he said. "Every vote that anybody takes who's running for reelection— they're looking over their shoulder in terms of how this vote might affect their electoral prospects."

Redistricting this year changed the political boundaries in Minnesota, including those for legislative districts. Schultz pointed to different segments of the electorate -- those who live in suburbs versus Greater Minnesota, for example -- who may have different and strong opinions about guns.

"I think what a lot of legislators are worried about this year is: are there particular types of votes or issues that, if they were to hold a hearing on it, if they were to vote on it, how would it hurt them in terms of their party," he said.

But election aside, Republicans and Democrats have divisions on gun policy. During a forum with Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders in early February -- just a day after a shooting outside of a Richfield high school -- Walz said he would "welcome the conversation and certainly sign legislation" with provisions that "have been proven to reduce gun violence." He said he supports red flag laws.

Shortly after, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, closed the door on that effort in the Senate: "I think it's highly unlikely to see any gun control measures move through the Senate this year."

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