MANKATO — Area elected officials have mixed feelings on the recent revival of gun-control measures in Congress and the Minnesota Legislature, but all agree it will take enormous effort to accomplish steps toward preventing future mass shootings.
Politicians have renewed interest in gun-control measures in the wake of two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, during the weekend that left a combined total of 31 people dead.
Democrats would like the Legislature and Congress to expand background checks to private sales and pass so-called “red flag” laws that would allow police to temporarily take away a person’s guns if they were deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Republicans say those measures likely wouldn’t stop future mass shootings. Instead, lawmakers should concentrate on ensuring current gun laws are enforced and boosting mental health funding.
On the federal level, President Donald Trump has expressed support for expanded background checks but said earlier this week he doesn’t believe Congress will agree on a bill.
First District Congressman Jim Hagedorn, a Republican from Blue Earth, said Wednesday he doesn’t support the background check proposals Democrats have introduced, as he doesn’t believe they will prevent would-be mass shooters from obtaining weapons. He also called the background check proposals onerous for gun owners who have already gone through checks to obtain conceal-and-carry permits, among other things.
“People are concerned, they want action, but will this really solve the problem?” he said.
Hagedorn said Congress should instead look to copy Minnesota’s gun laws, where conceal-and-carry permits are increasing but gun violence is decreasing.
On the state level, Gov. Tim Walz renewed calls this week for the GOP-controlled Senate to hold hearings on the background check and red flag bills Democrats have championed since 2018.
The Mankato Democrat, at a gun rally Wednesday night at the Capitol, urged Republicans to consider and agree to the gun-control measures as a means to address gun violence and potentially prevent future shootings.
“We watch the same old stories that tell us, ‘Boy, it’s a complex issue, what can we do about it?’” Walz said in a speech at the rally. “If we pass a law, we won’t stop all of them. You know, the same logic that says well, we can’t stop auto accidents so we should just drive on sidewalks, we should just let people do whatever we want.”
Area Democrats agree with Walz’s analysis and support both bills.
“Any rational person can look at those two measures and say those are common-sense measures,” said Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato.
Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said he believes there’s enough support for both measures in the Senate but acknowledged the issue likely wouldn’t go anywhere until after the 2020 election, when control of both the House and Senate will be up for grabs.
“I support background checks and red flag laws,” Frentz said. “We’re not going to be able to stop every shooting, but we should be trying to stop as many as we can.”
Area Republicans disagree with both measures for a variety of reasons. Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, said both DFL bills are written in a way where they would be unenforceable.
Munson said he’s concerned expanding background checks wouldn’t keep guns out of criminals’ hands, while others could try to skirt around the checks by filing backdated paperwork to make it appear guns were sold or transferred privately before a background check law goes into effect.
He said he’s also worried red flag laws could be abused by residents and police to barge into a person’s home and take their guns when they’re having a crisis, potentially creating a dangerous situation for all involved.
“I don’t support laws that can’t be properly enforced and fairly enforced,” he said.
Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, agrees. Draheim said the Legislature has yet to answer what they really want to accomplish with background checks and red flag laws. He said he’d much rather have lawmakers gather data and ensure gun laws keeping firearms away from felons are working.
“I’m not saying we couldn’t change any of the laws, but we need to identify what we want to accomplish and ensure the laws we have are enforced,” Draheim said.
Draheim noted that area residents contact him in favor of expanding gun rights by almost a 3-to-1 margin compared to people who contact him in favor of stricter gun control.
Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter, said he’s heard from residents on both sides but generally hears more personal stories from residents in favor of stricter gun control. He said he usually gets chain letters, emails or phone calls from gun-rights supporters.
“I had one gentleman email me 13 times,” Brand said. “He was very passionate, but it was the exact same email.”
Brand would like to see Congress take action on background checks before the Legislature does, but he believes something needs to be done for victims of gun violence soon.
“It’s very frustrating that we can’t have an actual dialogue in this state about a political issue because one political party makes it that way,” he said.