I’m proud of the Minnesota Senate’s long history of supporting our state’s youngest leaders. Among other events, the Senate arranges its schedule each year to facilitate the YMCA’s Youth in Government Model Assembly, which encourages students to be active participants in their governance, not bystanders.
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Monday was a sharp departure from that encouragement, however. Several high school students approached the public-testifier table and asked for public hearings on gun-safety measures. The students were interrupted by the chairman banging his gavel and raising his voice. The students were escorted out of the hearing by State Patrol officers. It was an uncommon scene at what traditionally are decorous Senate committee gatherings.
What comments could elicit such a strong reaction? A respectful request for the chair to hold a public hearing. Sure, it was off-topic, but we are nearly halfway through this year’s legislative session, and the Republican-controlled Senate has yet to hold a single public hearing on gun safety. Whether you support gun-safety measures, you deserve the opportunity to participate in a public conversation about them.
I respectfully encourage my Republican colleagues to heed these students’ request for a public hearing on gun safety.
I’m no stranger to the gun-safety debate. I’ve spent my career balancing my constituents’ interests and my conscience when it comes to gun measures. I was endorsed by the NRA in a DFL primary between 11 other candidates the first time I ran for the House. I broke with the NRA on the “shoot-first” bill in 2011 and have supported conceal-and-carry legislation.
I support legislative consideration of gun-safety measures. I even support some of them, like closing the gun-show loophole, red-flag proposals, banning bump stocks, the mandatory reporting of lost or stolen weapons, studying gun violence trauma, and the Taylor Hayden Gun Violence Prevention Act to support organizations working to reduce gun violence. Additionally, I’m open to reviewing other gun-safety proposals. I have spent years trying to increase student-support services. I’ve voted for increasing the school-safety levy and would do it again.
But I don’t have the opportunity to actually advance or oppose any legislation if Republicans won’t even hold a hearing to talk.
That’s why I was fascinated to learn of the supposed authority I have to halt gun-safety bills in their tracks, according to comments made this week by Republican Senate leadership. If I had the ability to unilaterally stop or move bills as minority leader, last year’s unsustainable, corporate tax bill would not have passed; the preemption bill would never have seen the light of day; and the state employee contracts would have been approved.
It’s as simple as this: If Republicans want to pass legislation but don’t have the votes to do it, they need to get DFL support. We have passed several bipartisan bills off the Senate floor in the last two years following this exact process. If Republicans want to address gun safety, they will garner a number of DFL votes — in some cases, mine.
I want it to be clear: I support these students’ efforts to motivate the institution into holding hearings. I support several common-sense gun-safety measures. And I’d welcome another opportunity for bipartisan compromise in the state Senate. We owe it our students.
Minnesota Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, wrote this exclusively for the Duluth News Tribune. First published on March 23, 2018.