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Elected leaders cautious about gun laws

Published 9:39am Monday, December 24, 2012

In the wake of a recent shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Minnesota legislators speculate the gun control laws could become a talking point in the upcoming legislative session.

While Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said he has not heard anything specifically yet about whether the issue will come up in January, he’s not ruling it out.

“The tragic event that happened a week ago, it’s brought this issue front and center,” Sparks said. “I would think there might be some discussion.”

As for his own take on gun regulations, Sparks said he thought the state’s gun laws were pretty thorough, especially because law enforcement officials perform a detailed background check before a Minnesotan is allowed to buy a gun. He expressed caution about any reactive legislation following a tragedy.

“Sometimes I think when you do this knee-jerk stuff, you get the opposite reaction,” Sparks said, adding many more people have bought guns in the wake of the shooting.

Instead, he said he would look at other factors, such as violent video games and mental health issues.

“We have to look at a little bit of a bigger picture,” he said. “I don’t think gun control will be able to solve it totally.”

Dennis Schminke, Mower County GOP chairman, agreed that an emotional response was shaky grounds for changing the law. While he feels bad for those students, staff and faculty who lost their lives in Newtown, he said there was no guarantee restrictions would save any lives in the future.

“I don’t think you should make big public policy changes based on emotion,” Schminke said. “That is something that needs to be proposed and debated and voted on in a climate of calm reason.”

He also said focusing on the gun issue alone as a response to the shooting wasn’t enough, and people should not ignore the mental illness factor in shootings.

Schminke, a concealed and carry permit owner and National Rifle Association member, said he opposes any changes that might limit Second Amendment rights. For him, it is a matter of personal safety.

“I’m one of those who says hunting has nothing to do with it,” he said. “A citizen has a right to protect himself.”

Retired Austin resident and former Mower GOP deputy chairman Charles Mills said he thought there was no way a change to the Second Amendment would ever go through.

“I think if you read the writings of our founding fathers, you understand,” Mills said. “I think Thomas Jefferson probably says it as well as anyone: It’s against tyrants.”

Congressman Tim Walz had previously opposed a ban on high-capacity, military-style rifles known as assault weapons. And while he hasn’t reversed his position on the federal ban, which expired in 2004, he said Tuesday he’s willing to talk about more restrictions on guns.

“What people are putting forward, looking at assault magazines, assault weapons, that should be in the discussion,” he said.

But he also said he doesn’t want a feel-good legislative fix that doesn’t solve anything.

“It has to strike the proper balance between the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens versus the safety of all Americans,” he said.

It was clear Walz was striking a balance himself: The NRA endorsed him in his contest this year against Allen Quist.

One of the guns used in last week’s school shooting, a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, used 30-round magazines. The expired federal ban used a 10-round limit.

When asked specifically about whether he would support a ban on high-capacity guns, Walz said he would be “willing to entertain, if it’s crafted correctly” reductions to magazine size. He declined to get specific, saying the “devil is in the details” in this case.

But Walz said he isn’t willing to do nothing.

“My take on this is we have a responsibility to get it right. That argument that you can never prevent all of these, it doesn’t remove us from responsibility.”

Walz told reporters he rejects the “pessimistic world view” NRA lobbyist Wayne Pierre expressed at a Washington news conference Friday, reacting to last week’s shootings at a Connecticut school that left 26 children and staff dead.

Walz taught geography and coached football at Mankato West High School before he was elected to Congress. He says he refuses to believe that schools need to become “armed encampments.”

Walz also noted that LaPierre took no questions at his news conference. He says that’s “a very odd way to start a national conversation.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.