A flurry of Facebook and E-Democracy forums forecast a heated debate at Minneapolis City Councilperson Gary Schiff’s monthly breakfast last Friday. About 40 people slogged through the snow for the February 22 event at Mercado Central, but the promised gun controversy failed to materialize.
Earlier in the week the Twin Cities Gun Owners & Carry Forum had listed the breakfast as an “action item” on the group’s Facebook page. Gun enthusiasts were encouraged to attend and buttonhole Representative Jim Davnie (DFL-63A). Davnie, who represents Seward and parts of adjoining neighborhoods, “wants to make you a felon” according to the post in the pro-gun forum.
At issue was Davnie’s sponsorship of H.F. 238 and H.F. 239, measures to equalize penalties for unlawful possession of firearms. The issue is one small part of the larger gun control debate in the Minnesota legislature. [See sidebar for details.]
Davnie’s gun penalty equalization proposal
Under current Minnesota law, if you are convicted of illegally carrying a gun on school property you are guilty of a felony. If you hold a permit to carry a concealed weapon the same offense is charged as a misdemeanor. Davnie sees it as an issue of equal justice under the law.
On January 31, H.F. 238 was introduced with seven co-sponsors. The bill, which picked up two additional Democratic co-sponsors in February, would eliminate special treatment for permit holders. The other measure, H.F. 239, levels a similar disparity in penalties for persons illegally carrying weapons on private property.
On the other side of the issue are those gun owners who see the change as a step toward loss of their Second Amendment rights, characterizing as “gun grabbers” those who propose tightening firearms regulations. Members of the pro-gun lobby have been a vocal presence at recent Minnesota Senate hearings on gun violence prevention. Their potential disruption of the breakfast drew attention from several media outlets.
Surveying the room as the breakfast began, I wondered who might be armed. Was that an NRA cap that the guy behind me is wearing? No, a quick look revealed a horse track insignia. Neither the man with thick loop earrings, nor the woman next to him with the nurse’s association lanyard around her neck look like they’d be packing, but that’s just a guess. Was the man wearing a Pendleton Wool hunting jacket talking about a buying a Glock or a clock? You’d think it would be easier to determine who’s on what side. In truth, the boundary between “us” and “them” is a hard line to draw.
“You probably heard on TV that we are talking about guns,” Senator Torres Ray (DFL-63) began. “I am not involved in that conversation.” Her focus was education: early childhood programs, repeal of high stakes graduation testing, and the importance of including art and environmental curriculum. When it was his turn, Representative Davnie also skipped any mention of gun violence prevention.
Toward the end of the breakfast participants were invited to write their questions on index cards. There were pointed inquiries about public funding of sports facilities, rental housing arbitration systems, property tax refund schemes, and funding for multi-modal transportation, but the hour and a half session ended without anyone asking about guns.
Asked about the absent firearms advocates Schiff quipped, “Maybe they’re not morning people.”
Davnie was more philosophical. “We have to have cultural conversations,” he said. “I was expecting a conversation and the people didn’t show up.” He does hear feedback about gun law changes, though his emails lean strongly toward support of measures to prevent gun violence.
“I did have a constituent visit my office yesterday,” Davnie said. He was a law-abiding gun owner, concerned about maintaining his freedom to carry a weapon. After a conversation about the legislation, the man left, saying he was reconsidering his opposition to Davnie’s proposals.