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1,000 crowd Minn. Capitol to urge gun violence actions

Hundreds of people jammed into the Minnesota Capitol rotunda Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, to urge state lawmakers to pass bills to prevent gun violence. About 1,000 people filled the rotunda and nearby areas. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 4
Minnesotans young and old packed the state Capitol Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, to rally against gun violence. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 4
About 1,000 Minnesotans filled three floors around the state Capitol rotunda on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in a rally against gun violence. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 4
A variety of signs expressed the opinions of Minnesotans who crammed the state Capitol in a rally against gun violence on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 4

ST. PAUL—An anti-gun violence rally scheduled before last week's Florida school shooting packed more than 1,000 young and old Minnesotans into the state Capitol Thursday, Feb. 22, encouraging lawmakers who work under the dome to enact legislation to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.

Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, gave an example of what he sees as a problem: A store clerk job applicant may undergo a criminal background check, but not all gun buyers do.

About 40 percent of Minnesota gun purchasers avoid background checks, Latz said, by buying at gun shows and using other loopholes. However, he said, states that require all gun buyers to go through background checks report nearly 50 percent fewer suicides and women shot in domestic disputes. Those states also report far fewer mass shootings, he added.

"These things work and we ought to pass them in Minnesota now," Latz said.

Political leaders and citizens alike spoke to those that the Protect Minnesota gun violence prevention organization brought to the Capitol. Those attending, many wearing bright orange shirts, filled the rotunda and two floors above it in one of the largest rallies inside the Capitol in recent years.

"The devastating school shooting in Parkland, Florida, underscores once again the need to keep guns (away from) dangerous individuals," Executive Director the Rev. Nancy Nord Bence of Protect Minnesota said.

The group wants some bills passed this year, including requiring a background check for every person who buys a gun. Also, the organization wants legislation passed to allow law enforcement officers and family members to seek a court order to prohibit someone from having a firearm if it could put a person in danger.

Protect Minnesota opposes some GOP-written bills, including one to drop a gun permit requirement and another that would give Minnesotans more latitude in using guns for defense.

With the Florida shootings, some Republicans who normally would not look at changes to limit guns are taking a new look.

"The subject is one we cannot avoid," Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said. "The issue is not one we should run away from."

As chairman of the Senate committee dealing with gun laws, he said that he will reject provisions from both the extreme political left and right.

As for the Protect Minnesota proposals, he added, "I want to study those first."

He said that one question he wants answered for any proposal is: "Will those proposals stop a madman?"

Four days into the 2018 legislative session, he said Thursday, is too soon to know what issues will be debated. "We don't have anything specific."

One potential step the Legislature could take, Limmer said, is expanding a safe schools tax that lawmakers approved last year. Protecting students is the first step that should be taken this year, he added.

He also suggested looking at keeping guns from the mentally ill who could be dangerous.

On Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton waved a photo of so-called assault rifles like the one used in the Florida school shooting, saying that a semi-automatic weapon "fires 700 rounds a minute; I don't know anyone who needs that for hunting."

The governor said such a weapon is "suitable only for killing people, lots of people."

Dayton said the gun debate will continue to be divided geographically, with most urban residents favoring gun control and rural residents backing few restrictions.

Protect Minnesota activists emphasized that more Minnesotans die from gun violence than from opioid abuse or motor vehicle crashes.

President Becky Sechrist of the Minnesota Public Health Association said the gun situation should be considered a public health crisis.

She said about 500 Minnesotans die annually from gunshot wounds or are treated for them at a cost of $2.2 billion.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.