Senate Republicans open door to gun control bills – but only slightly

Minnesota’s top Senate Republican is opening the door for hearings on two gun control bills, but there’s a catch.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the House would have to pass both bills first. One measure requires background checks for all gun sales, while the other would allow police to seize guns from a person whom a judge deems a threat.

The measures have passed two House committees controlled by Democrats, but have been stuck in the Senate. Two weeks ago, the Senate Judiciary committee chairman said he would not hold hearings on either bill.

“I just think sooner or later, we’re going to have to have the conversation,” Gazelka said, when asked about the apparent reversal. “I would personally rather have it sooner than later – if the House is willing to move the bills.”

Gazelka said any hearing would include bills some Republicans favor, including self-defense legislation known as "stand your ground." 

Senate Democrats said the conditional offer was not serious and announced plans to hold a hearing of their own to publicize the background check bill.

State Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, will chair a “committee of banned bills” about six pieces of legislation, including the universal background check measure, on Monday.

“There has been no indication to me that they are serious about holding these hearings. But here is what I would say to them: Prove me wrong,” Little said in an interview.

In the House, the bills have not moved since clearing two committees weeks ago. But they remain priorities, a spokeswoman for the Democratic caucus said.

“They are alive and moving over here, as they're in our top 10 priorities,” said Susie Merthan, the spokeswoman. “They aren't scheduled on the floor yet, but we could see them as soon as in a couple of weeks.”

Gun activists have crowded into the Capitol several times this year. At a March 13 rally sponsored by Moms Demand Action, a group that supports more gun restrictions, First Lady Gwen Walz made a political threat to Senate Republicans who represent districts won by Gov. Tim Walz in 2018.

“We are coming!” Gwen Walz told them.

That same day, Senate Judiciary chairman Warren Limmer said he would not hold hearings on either bill this year. Limmer, whose district was among those that Gov. Walz won, told reporters “bring it on” when told what the first lady said.

Wednesday, Gazelka downplayed the impact of Gwen Walz’s comments when asked if her challenge had influenced his openness to holding hearings. Yet Gazelka clearly had thought about the first lady’s words.

“I called the governor about that conversation. I’ll leave that one there,” Gazelka said, declining to go into detail about his phone call with Gov. Walz. “That’s her prerogative to say whatever she wants to say. But that’s not the deciding factor (about the gun hearings).”