Ninety percent of Minnesotans favor background checks on all gun purchases. It’s the kind of consensus that can only be matched if pollsters were to ask, “Was Stalin mean?”
Yet during the last legislative session, even the most timid of bills went nowhere. House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) refused to allow any vote not blessed by the NRA. In the Senate, Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) formed a human blockade against anything emerging from his public safety committee.
They did allocate money to "harden" schools as targets, providing for bullet-proof glass, security cameras, etc., but that's kind of like treating heart disease by buying more ambulances.
Then, two weeks ago, the GOP was lashed for its sins. The new House speaker, Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), does not moonlight as a chauffeur for the NRA. And Republican senators, who won’t face reelection until 2020, own but a single-vote majority.
It all means that for the first time in years, Minnesota seems poised to put the tragedy of slaughtered kids before the inconveniences of grown men.
“I’m hopeful,” says Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis), invoking a sense of promise few thought possible just last spring.
This window of optimism has been opened by an unlikely source: the NRA. Once the feudal baron of Minnesota gun politics, it’s now more like a broke landlord scrambling to quell a tenant rebellion. The group is losing members, sponsors, and money. For the first time in memory, it was outspent by the forces of gun safety.
Across the country, 15 congressional candidates who’d received the NRA's A grade were defeated by challengers who’d received F’s. Though an A used to be among the prized trophies of politics, the group recently cleansed its website of its entire grading system, fearing it had become a scarlet letter.
In the meantime, its power has been spirited away by women like Marit Brock, a mother of two from St. Paul.
She joined Moms Demand Action Minnesota in 2013, after the latest gunman decided to slaughter 26 children and faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
At the time, Brock had a daughter in first grade. You could say this was personal. So she started volunteering, knocking on doors, and showing up at the Legislature.
Gun control “wasn’t something you could talk about socially in 2013,” she says. Not in a state where half the households contain firearms. And not in a Legislature where the Republican Party was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NRA, with many a Democrat also willing to take a vow of subservience.
Five years later, Moms Demand Action Minnesota has 5,000 volunteers – backed by 50,000 people on its email list. An army of pissed off moms is not easily ignored.
Brock had already noticed the changing of hearts prior to this year. “It feels like a lot has happened in the past few years,” she says. “We don’t have the legislative victories that quantify that, but it feels like it.”
Yet 2018 seemed a distinct turning point. There was a change in how voters reacted to talk of gun violence, be they liberal or conservative. Republican candidates were touting their own safety records. And outspoken proponents ended up pounding recalcitrant incumbents in the Twin Cities’ suburbs.
When it was all over, Daudt had lost his 20-seat majority in the Minnesota House. The beatdown could largely be attributed to suburban women, one-time allies increasingly repelled by the GOP’s Primitive Man Theology.
Gun control wasn’t the sole reason, of course. There was health care, the party’s tin ear on sexual abuse, the native revulsion Donald Trump inspires in the feminine species. But guns were a big part. Finally, in the year 2018, the average suburban mom would no longer believe that more guns was the only way to keep Little Johnny from getting riddled with bullets during recess.
“This isn’t some liberal versus conservative issue anymore,” says Sen. Hayden. “This is an issue polling higher after every mass shooting. Suburban white women are all in on this.”
Hayden had his own bill blocked this year. It was called the Taylor Hayden Gun Violence Prevention Act, named for his younger sister, who was killed by a stray bullet in a nightclub shooting in 2016. The measure was as unthreatening as it gets, awarding grants to nonprofits for public awareness and violence education campaigns.
He’ll introduce it again this year, believing a flurry of bills have a good chance of passing. There’s universal background checks. A ban on bump stocks, which convert semi-automatics to fully automatic – and allow for massacres like the one last year in Las Vegas, when 58 people were murdered and 851 wounded.
Advocates also believe some form of “Red Flag” law will pass. It grants police the power to temporarily take guns from people exhibiting violent or unstable behavior, and comes with the backing of law enforcement.
Still, Republican control of the Senate remains a sticking point. At the moment, the GOP doesn’t seem particularly interested in discussing the matter. Limmer declined an interview request, as did Sen. Paul Anderson (R-Plymouth), who’s supported background checks in the past.
Yet Hayden believes they’ll face enormous pressure to act, if only to appease female constituents. While they may not see the light on guns, they can always be counted on to see the light of self-interest. And that beam, it would seem, no longer shines on an NRA to-do list.