Gun-safety advocates became unruly after the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee’s GOP majority turned down two attempts to revive tabled gun legislation last Tuesday.
When they rose to leave the hearing, many started chanting, “Vote them out!” Within 10 seconds of the first shout, the committee’s chair, Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, abruptly ended the meeting.
As angry as the crowd was over the committee’s refusal to hear two firearms bills from Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, their irritation was no match for that of Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato.
Immediately after the hearing shut down, the burly, white-bearded former jail counselor could be heard hurling an expletive into his microphone. Considine wasn’t so much angry at the GOP majority for refusing to hear Pinto’s bills. That was expected.
He was mad at the crowd — for costing him a chance to force the Republicans’ hand with his own piece of gun legislation, which was about to be discussed.
“I had an opportunity to bring up the bump stock bill and put them on the spot,” an irritated Considine said in a brief interview. “And I get drowned out by the people that were supporting me.”
Considine’s House File 2781 was not on Tuesday’s meeting agenda. Nor were Pinto’s House File 1669 and House File 1605. Pinto waited until the five scheduled bills wrapped up before making motions to revive his own legislation. Unknown to the crowd, Considine was to follow him.
Pinto’s HF 1669 would have instituted universal background checks on gun purchases, albeit with a handful of exception. His HF 1605 was a gun-related “extreme risk” protection order bill, which could have led to gun seizures if someone was deemed by a judge to be an imminent danger.
The committee voted 9-7 not to reconsider the background check bill, as Rep. Keith Franke, R-St. Paul Park, sided with the Democrats. The restraining order bill failed by a 10-6 party-line vote.
That’s when frustrated activists loudly rose to leave. Simultaneously, Johnson called on Considine.
He started to speak, but fell silent as the first shout of “vote them out” broke loose. Johnson then called on Considine again. Before he could answer his voice was drowned out by a wave of enraged protests.
A female committee member — it is not certain who — quickly urged Johnson to adjourn. He did, prompting Considine loudly to blurt, “Goddammit!”
After that, the room’s sound system cut off.
It’s not clear whether Considine’s unscheduled bill would have been voted on or even fully debated. However, in an interview, Johnson confirmed that he intended to let Considine raise the matter.
“He wanted to have a comment made and I wanted to let him make his comment,” Johnson said. “It got too disruptive. Then I had to call the meeting.”
Considine’s bill was introduced prior to session, with four DFL co-sponsors; he eventually added five more. It clarified in statute that a “slide-fire stock” or “bump-fire stock” for a semiautomatic firearm is a “trigger activator” subject to regulation. It would have amended Minnesota Statutes Section 609.67, subdivision 1.
Stephen Craig Paddock used a bump stock device on Oct. 1, 2017, when he killed 58 and wounded more than 800 at a Las Vegas concert using an altered semiautomatic. It was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The Considine bill was referred to Public Safety but never had a hearing. Tuesday was its last chance to be heard there while leaving enough time for re-referral to any other committees needing to consider it. The deadline passed at midnight Thursday for bills to be heard in their house of origin.
Considine said he approached Johnson at least six times since session started, requesting that his bill get a hearing. “It is the single lowest-hanging piece of fruit that you can have,” Considine said. “It’s so frustrating.”
Early this month, Pinto invoked an obscure House rule to force the Public Safety committee to debate his firearms bills. The GOP majority put them indefinitely on ice on March 1. Asked whether they might return later in the session, Johnson said at the time, “You never know.”
We know now, Johnson said: “At this time, they are not being brought back.”
Pinto said he was not surprised the committee turned him down Tuesday.
“I had heard that they were very likely to do that,” he said. “I will say that I try to be an optimist and these are such commonsense measures.”
The refusal came on the same day as yet another school shooting — this one in Great Mills, Md., which left the shooter dead and two students injured. That fact did not pass unnoticed by Pinto, who doubles as a Ramsey County prosecutor.
“I mean, look, every day we lose a significant number of Americans to gun violence,” he said. “Some make more headlines than others.”
Johnson said he was not aware of the latest shooting until after Tuesday’s hearing. “I’ve been busy doing other things,” he said.
Asked why he never put the gun legislation on an agenda, Johnson replied by referencing the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were allegedly killed by a lone shooter.
The DFL’s gun bills would not have prevented those killings, according to Johnson.
“The gentleman passed the background checks,” Johnson said, referring to Parkland shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz. “We have since found out that law enforcement and some other people wanted to get him into some mental health [treatment]. They didn’t bring him there.”
Johnson added that a school discipline program known as PROMISE (short for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports and Education), in place at Parkland, failed to identify Cruz as an imminent threat.
“He could have been charged with crimes that could have banned him from firearms,” Johnson said. “That program failed. And there are so many other failures that we need to deal with.”
Liberal commentators have described the PROMISE program as a tool to help end the “school-to-prison pipeline” by reducing school-related arrests. Conservative media has called it a “social justice petri dish” that, according to commentator Laura Ingraham, “may have facilitated a lunatic.”
“These weren’t laws that failed,” Johnson concluded. “These were programs that failed that circumvent the current law. Because those programs failed the system, he was able to buy a firearm.”
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said on Feb. 26 that Cruz was not involved in the program, which Florida’s Sun Sentinel newspaper described as a way that “students committing minor crimes can avoid going to jail.”
In contrast to Florida, Johnson said, Minnesota has far better system of “checks and balances” making Minnesota a safer state.
“We do a good job here,” Johnson said. “Some of the programs that they were doing down there did not work. Let’s find out why they did not work and make sure that doesn’t happen here.”