Minnesota congressional delegation divided on gun bill after Texas school shooting

By Hunter Woodall, Star Tribune – June 8, 2022

The U.S. House passed the sweeping Protecting Our Kids Act on a 223-204 vote Wednesday. 

WASHINGTON — Minnesota’s House members mirrored the fierce congressional divide on guns Wednesday, voting along party lines on the Democrat-controlled House’s response to the school shooting massacre in Uvalde, Texas.

The wide-ranging bill that cleared the House raises the age for buying certain semiautomatic rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21, a requirement for the secure storage of a firearm if a child could obtain the weapon and a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines.

“We’ve been offering prayers and thoughts,” Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar said. “It’s time to take action.”

Minnesota’s four House Democrats voted for the legislation, called the Protecting Our Kids Act, while the state’s three congressional Republicans opposed the overall bill. It passed the chamber 223 to 204, with two Democrats voting no and five Republicans going against their party to support the legislation.

GOP Rep. Michelle Fischbach said during a floor speech that Republicans are prepared to work on “school safety, mental health and the root causes of gun violence” but charged that Democrats are pushing an anti-gun agenda. The sprawling legislation includes bills Democrats had introduced earlier but have been unable to pass into law.

“[The House bill] is a grab bag full of far-left proposals that will not effectively address gun violence but will severely limit America’s Second Amendment rights,” Fischbach said.

The Minnesota House delegation’s votes on Wednesday showed the same divide that was evident in the initial responses to the Texas shooting last month that killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers. But the vote is only part of a larger debate playing out in Washington.

“They have the right to interpret the Second Amendment however they want,” Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum said when asked about GOP criticisms of the bill. “I have the right to interpret the Second Amendment then, too, and I don’t believe that the Second Amendment was designed to put my life needlessly at risk.”

The House bill isn’t expected to go anywhere in the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers are seeking a bipartisan compromise on gun violence legislation that can get the support necessary to make it to President Joe Biden’s desk. But any kind of bipartisan agreement is expected to be less far-reaching than what cleared the House given the need to get Republicans on board to overcome the Senate’s filibuster.

“I’m under no illusion that everything that we pass today is going to become part of the package in the Senate,” Democratic Rep. Angie Craig said. “But we have to do something, anything. Doing nothing is not an option. We have to protect our kids.”

Despite bipartisan condemnation of the recent mass violence and shootings, Minnesota’s Republicans and Democrats in Congress are highly unlikely to end up on the same side of any major gun legislation.

Even when Wednesday’s sprawling legislation was divided into a series of different parts, the only title to get bipartisan support from Minnesota lawmakers was one calling for the attorney general to give lawmakers a report with “the demographic data of persons who were determined to be ineligible to purchase a firearm based on a background check performed by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.” Every Democrat in the House delegation voted in support of that portion, along with Fischbach and fellow GOP Rep. Pete Stauber.

Stauber said in a statement he supports “the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans and will oppose legislation designed to take away these constitutional rights,” adding that he has “signed on to bills that would increase school security to ensure our kids are safe while learning, make it harder to obtain a gun illegally and improve mental health options for those in need.”

During a floor speech, Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips shared a message from Kathryn Mitchell Ramstad, whose late husband, former Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, held Phillips’ seat before leaving Congress in 2009. Ramstad’s widow wrote to Phillips that “after so many mass shootings, I simply cannot understand why Congress does not at the very least ban semi-automatics like the AR-15s.”

Standing outside the House chamber, Phillips said the vote shows lawmakers are listening. But frustration about sending bills to the Senate, only for them to stall and never make it to the floor, wasn’t far from the surface for a lawmaker who has made finding bipartisan common ground a focus.

“If this Congress continues to be inactive and not take what we hear and convert it into action, the country continues to lose faith in the very institution that we need to keep it together,” Phillips said.

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