After mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, State Sen. Ron Latz called for the Minnesota Legislature to conduct hearings this fall on gun control bills he has sponsored.

Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) began his initial statement Aug. 5 by reflecting on the gun-related deaths in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.

“There is much to digest after a weekend in which America endured two deadly mass shootings that took the lives of too many before their time,” Latz said. “The rhetoric on social media, in the newspaper, on television, on the radio, and seemingly everywhere else, is condemnation of these hateful acts done by individuals with access to guns. It is true that we can all agree that these deadly attacks must cease. A society where children and adults are unsafe at school, work, the grocery store, a movie theatre, a bar, both private and public places, because individuals who should not have access to guns do in fact have access, is a society that requires change. This is an issue that impacts and demands the attention of every American.”

During this year’s legislative session, Latz advocated for a bill that would have required background checks for all private firearm purchases. He noted that 90% of respondents to a 2018 Star Tribune poll indicated that they supported mandatory criminal background checks for all gun sales, including private sales and sales at gun shows.

A poll by the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found similar support for the criminal background check bill as well as a red flag bill which would have allowed law enforcement and other individuals to petition a court to order the temporary removal of guns from the possession of a person deemed to be a threat. Latz also unsuccessfully advocated for that measure, which would have allowed courts to issue extreme risk protection orders, during the 2019 legislative session.

The bills passed the DFL-controlled Minnesota House of Representatives but did not progress in the GOP-led Minnesota Senate.

“It boggles my mind that the Senate majority continues to stand in the way of these proven measures to mitigate gun violence,” Latz said.

He called for a bipartisan approach.

“It will take both sides, Democrats and Republicans, to come to the table to address this issue to reduce gun violence in our state and in our country,” Latz said. “The Senate majority claims that increased mental health funding and school hardening will help. They may. But we cannot fund and harden our way out of this problem. We have documented, proven solutions available that the majority keeps blocking.”

In his initial statement, he called for the Minnesota Legislature to take action during its 2020 session.

“However, if the Minnesota Senate majority continues to stall on evidence-based solutions that work, I believe Minnesota voters in 2020 will make it apparent that inaction is not acceptable,” Latz said.

In a statement the next day, Latz joined with Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) in calling for gun legislation hearings this fall. The three are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The statement followed a similar request by Gov. Tim Walz.

“It is an abdication of public leadership to refuse for years to conduct a Minnesota Senate hearing on two demonstrably effective tools to reduce gun violence,” the three senators said in their statement.

They critiqued alternate proposals to increase mental health funding and provide more security in schools in the state.

“It’s a cop-out to say that we should only increase mental health funding,” the statement from three legislators said. “Only 4% of gun crimes are committed by the severely mentally ill; usually they become the victims by suicide or other assailants.

“It’s also a cop-out to simply harden all of our schools. Even if we had the resources to do so, turning every school into a fortress would still not stop individual or mass shootings at entry points there, or in other places in our community or homes, and would be counterproductive to the mission of educating our children while probably creating more mental health issues.”

The senators included a list of a series of requests Latz made in the Senate this year for hearings on his bills. The Senate did not conduct a hearing on the ideas this year or last year.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) and Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, the three DFL senators who issued the joint statement wrote, “Time is of the essence as we inevitably move closer to the next mass shooting. We cannot wait until next February to discuss gun violence as we must act now to mitigate and combat gun violence in our state and country. We look forward to your response.”

Gazelka addressed the issue of background checks in a statement that said, “Most gun purchases already require background checks. Universal background checks on sales to relatives, friends, and neighbors have not proven to eliminate deranged murderers from killing innocent people. We can continue to focus on mental health issues broadly and tougher sentencing on felons caught using guns in their criminal activities.”

He did not comment on the red-flag proposal.

Limmer wrote a letter in response to a letter from Latz on the issue pointing out that the issue did arise in a conference committee this year.

Limmer wrote to Latz, "We too are moved by the recent tragic events in El Paso and Dayton that took the lives of so many innocent civilians."

A conference committee with House and Senate members discussed the proposals for nearly three hours in May, Limmer said.

"The red flag and expanded background checks failed to receive majority support from the conference committee that day and I wonder if there is anything new in your proposals and testimony that would produce a different result," Limmer wrote. "That being said, I am not against the idea of interim hearings of the Judiciary Committee regarding public safety issues. I am aware of your bills and several other proposals from Senators regarding this topic. As I’ve said consistently regarding gun legislation – I am most interested in ideas that will actually produce results and have broad bi-partisan support. With the 2020 regular session beginning in February, there is ample time to thoughtfully consider interim hearings on this and other topics."

He added, "It is my sincere hope we can work together to find solutions that work for the people of Minnesota."

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