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Walz, Giffords call on Minnesota lawmakers to pass gun control measures

DFL legislators are advancing bills they say will help keep guns out of dangerous people’s hands.

Gabrielle Giffords
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords speaks at the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, March 30, in support of gun control bills moving through the state Legislature.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Joined by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and surrounded by advocates and legislators Thursday, March 30, Gov. Tim Walz urged lawmakers to back new gun control legislation.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers are advancing bills they say will help keep guns out of dangerous people’s hands. Now that DFLers have control of the Legislature and the governor’s office, their odds of passing appear much greater than when Republicans controlled the Senate.

One proposal would create universal background checks for firearm sales. The other key proposal is a “red flag law” where a person’s firearms can be taken away if deemed a risk for violence.

“Things are different in Minnesota this year, so we are going to move legislation to make our children safer,” said Walz, who expressed confidence the bills would get to his desk despite a thin DFL majority in the Senate.

Walz in his public safety budget recommendations called on lawmakers to pass several gun control policies, including a red flag law, universal background checks, magazine capacity limits, and restrictions on semiautomatic rifle sales to anyone under 21.

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Giffords, who served in Congress with Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, became a leading gun control advocate after being shot in the head in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that claimed the lives of six and injured 12 others.

In her brief remarks, she shared her story of recovering from her injuries, which included re-learning how to walk and talk. She urged others to join in the effort to make the county a safer place by limiting access to firearms.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” Giffords said.

The red flag and universal background checks bill are just two pieces of gun legislation Democrats have introduced this session. Other proposals including magazine capacity limits and raising the age to buy semi-automatic firearms are not moving forward.

While Democrats have the best opportunity in recent history of getting gun control laws enacted, there are two senators from northern rural districts who have not expressed a strong commitment on the issue that could make or break the push. DFLers have a 34-33 majority over Republicans in the Senate, and just one member breaking with the party on guns could stop a bill from passing.

Asked if the thin majority played into the narrower set of gun control proposals, Senate Public Safety Committee Chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said red flag laws and background checks are popular and are proven to reduce violence.

“They have the broadest identifiable support in the population of Minnesota, and frankly I don't think we want to be in a position of biting off more than we can chew,” Latz said. “I think it's worth focusing on two effective pieces of legislation.”

Walz said responsibility for whether gun legislation passes should not fall on rural DFLers and pointed to Republicans opposed to gun control bills.

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“You are not getting off the hook at the next election,” the governor said. “This is not a 34-vote type of situation. You are the ones that need to be asking why you're not going to vote for this.”

In response, Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, called the gun control measures "extreme" and asked why Democrats wouldn't consider a GOP proposal to provide $100 million for school safety improvements.

"Rather than an extreme all-or-nothing approach on guns, we can and should come together to protect lives with ideas that everyone supports, and that we know will work," Johnson said in a statement. "This isn’t the time to score political points and win elections. It’s time to do something that will actually save lives."

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email aderosier@forumcomm.com .

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Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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