ST. PAUL — After over four hours of floor debate, the Minnesota House of Representatives on Thursday, Feb. 27, advanced a pair of gun control proposals for the second year in a row.
The first of the package, House File 8, passed the House 69-61 and would boost background check requirements before sales and transfers of guns, with some exceptions. The second, often dubbed the "red-flag" bill, passed 68-62 and would allow law enforcement to confiscate firearms if someone poses a danger to themselves or others.
Thursday's tally wasn't a surprise as Democrats have pushed the measures since winning the House's majority in November 2018 — an electoral victory they say was largely driven by voters' eagerness for action on guns. The House passed the same two bills last year as part of a public safety omnibus, but they were not taken up by the Republican-majority Senate. This year, the bills again face an immediate wall in the Senate.
Advocates and opponents for the bills on Thursday crowded the House galleries and held up signs outside the doors of the House chamber as lawmakers walked in. A sea of protesters in orange T-shirts chanted, "What do we want? Background checks. When do we want them? Now."
Democrats have called the issue an urgent public health crisis, citing everyday gun violence as well as mass shootings like those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., or at a concert on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. Rep. Ruth Richardson, D-Mendota Heights, the primary author of HF 9, encouraged her colleagues to "be proactive" on Thursday.
"Twenty years ago when Connecticut passed this law, they passed it after tragedy. When Indiana passed their red flag law, it was after tragedy. Florida's was after tragedy," she said on the floor. "Lets not wait for another tragedy."
Republicans, on the other hand, say bills like HF 8 and 9 won't prevent senseless gun violence. Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, argued that people who want to do harm will break the law to obtain guns anyway, and all that HF 8 and 9 would do is penalize law-abiding gun owners.
Instead, Daudt accused Democrats of using the bills as "a talking point for an election."
"Democrats, you are failing the people in your cities who are worried about violent gun crime and that will be in your hands," he said.
Those for and against the bills have bemoaned the heated partisan divide on guns, with supporters saying that lives are at stake, and detractors saying Constitutional rights are — both should be nonpartisan issues, they have argued.
At Democrats' Thursday news conference prior to floor session, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, accused Republicans of being "beholden to the NRA and the extreme gun lobby," rather than Minnesotans, who he said favor bills like HF 8 and 9. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said the bills could prevent guns from getting into the streets, capable of getting into the wrong hands.
"What we really have — and I'll call it out — is a tyranny of some small special interests who are really muzzling the voices of Minnesotans," Choi said.
Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, retorted to Choi's claim that her constituents "would disagree strongly."
"This is not a small interest group," O'Neill said at Republican legislators' afternoon news conference. "Every single gun-owner in the state of Minnesota is worried about this."
The bills now move on to the Senate. Republican leaders have previously said the bills wouldn't pass there. They have suggested the Legislature instead focus on proposals to increase penalties for those who transfer firearms to someone who has broken the law, and require courts to set compliance hearings to ensure firearms are removed from those who violate abuse, assault and harassment laws.
Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.