This session, Senate File 2639 (and its house companion, HF3238) have been the subject of a lot of misunderstanding (including on this very blog). The bills would define how local authorities enforce federal law regarding dealing with firearms in the hands of those accused of domestic abuse.
The bills have also been the subject of an amazing amount of grandstanding rhetoric.
We’ll talk rhetoric first. Then we’ll talk about the bill.
Aiming Low: Representative Tony Cornish has, for a long, long time now, been the prime mover for Minnesota’s Second Amendment movement in the Legislature (after the retirement of Pat Pariseau). Nobody has ever, ever called him “soft” on Second Amendment issues and escaped without being laughed out of the conversation.
But Cornish isn’t stupid.
After the debacle of the 2013 session – where the DFL marched into the legislature with reams of gun-regulation and confiscation bills copied and pasted from California, New York and Pennsylvania, and got publicly humiliated by the “Army of Davids” that the Minnesota gun rights movement mobilized, and a bipartisan assortment of pro-Human-Rights legislators – the anti-rights crowd, led by a more capable batch of professional politicial consultants and armed with shopping carts full of Michael Bloomberg’s cash, came to the Capitol with a brand new plan. Their goal; find an emotional, red-meat issue that crossed party lines and would involve ratcheting up some sort of gun regulation, to eke out a win and help take the stench of death off of gun-control political efforts.
And there has been no better year since the seventies for the DFL to try to jam something down. Remember – the DFL controls both chambers of the Legislature, and the Governor’s office.
All they’d have to do to pass any law – magazine restrictions and backdoor registration, to say nothing of taking guns from those accused of domestic abuse – is close ranks.
The fact that any such move would be political suicide is the result of two decades of organizing by the Minnesota 2nd Amendment movement – GOCRA, the MN-GOPAC, the NRA, the Twin Cities Gun Owners, and more.
But politics is a two way street. Both sides can play it – and Michael Bloomberg and the Joyce Foundation bought themselves some consultants who know how to play.
Remember – Tony Cornish, and all the other pro-human-rights legislators, are facing a DFL majority. To avoid getting steamrolled, one of two things is needed:
- Being OK with being steamrollered, or
- canny negotiation.
Cornish and the rest of the pro-human-rights lobby chose negotiation.
We’ll come back to that.
We Interrupt This Story For Some Law – Domestic abuse is no laughing matter. The law provides victims of domestic abuse some remedies under the law. It also provides those accused of domestic abuse with the the right to due process.
Here, more or less, is now the process works (and every situation is different, so curb your inner lawyer. Or outer lawyer, if you went to law school):
- Joe alleges his spouse, Jane, is beating him. He goes to get a restraining order
- A judge signs off on an ex parte order (which means “one party”) “order for protection” (OFP). The OFP prohibits contact (to say nothing of abuse) between Jane and Joe. Firearms are, however, not an issue – yet. It’s a temporary order, until the hearing (aka “due process”)
- Joe has Jane served a copy of the OFP.
- Jane has the option to request a hearing to review and contest the order. She can (and probably should) bring a lawyer – it’s serious business (this, by the way, is the part many accused of domestic abuse skip, which screws things up for them badly).
- If the judge believes, after the hearing that Jane is a significant threat to Joe’s safety, the judge may make the order “permanent” (which really means generally three years or so).
- If the order finds that the threat is really serious, the federal “Wellstone Amendment” may prohibit Jane from possessing firearms.
And it’s here that the contention slips in.
SF 2639 and HF 3238 were originally given to the DFL by Michael Bloomberg’s organization. I’m not sure that Alice Hausman would have been arrogant enough to submit the bills in their original form, which did not allow those accused any due proces at all, with guns required to be stored elsewhere as soon as the complaint was filed, before any hearing took place.
Power Changes Everything – Like its namesake, the “Wellstone Amendment” is big on pronouncements and short on details. It says those accused of a certain level of domestic abuse shouldn’t have firearms. It leaves the details to the states.
And the original versions of the two bills, as sent from Michael Bloomberg’s organization, did terrible things with those details; they would have invoked the Wellstone Amendment when the initial, temporary order was invoked (i.e. before any hearing), required the accused to store their guns with the police (for a “reasonable” fee that would be anything but in real life) and served as de facto gun registration.
And in a state like New York or Connecticut, with a weak or nascent gun rights movement, that’s exactly what would have passed.
But Minnesota’s Real Americans have spent the past two decades organizing one of the most potent grass roots movements in the state. It’s a movement that has swayed entire elections in the past (the 2002 House race). And after the humiliations the DFL suffered in 2013, they figured they weren’t going to get away with the “loud and stupid” strategy favored by the likes of “Moms Demand Action” and the like.
So the DFL came to the gun rights movement, looking for a solution that would give them a “win” on domestic violence, but not stir up the hornet’s nest needlessly. And the movement – GOCRA, the NRA and the like – gave them the solution. To return to our example above, Jane will need to store any guns she owns with friends, the police, or a licensed dealer, but only after the hearing for the permanent order. The new bill will require Jane to transact this within three days, and for the police to notify the judge two days after that.
No guns move before “due process” – a hearing, with counsel – has taken place.
Let’s make sure we’re clear on what just happened – and I’m going to put this in loud blue text to make sure everyone catches it; even though the DFL controls both chambers and the governor’s office, they had to come to the Gun Rights movement to get some form of their bill passed. And the bill got turned from Michael Bloomberg’s fascist nightmare into something that can exist in a free society.
It wasn’t perfect. But when you’re outnumbered two chambers to none, and have a DFL governor who will follow whatever way Big Left pulls his leash, “perfect” isn’t an option.
Everyone’s A Kamikaze With Someone Else’s Plane – When you walk into a restaurant, and see two items on the menu – peanut butter sandwich, and lard sandwich – you can try to order a Porterhouse with a baked potato. You can order it, and order it, and order it again. All it’ll do is give you a pissed-off waitress, and no food at all.
And that’s the strategy that some “gun rights” groups, including Iowa-based “Minnesota Gun Rights”, took. They spent the session demanding that the pro-Second-Amendment minority impale itself on demands to completely reject the legislation – which was the “porterhouse steak” option in a restaurant full of peanut butter and lard.
Their “plan”: pretend that fuming and spluttering and making grand pronouncements and handing the DFL a cheap chanting point for the fall would be anything other than an invitation to a catastrophe for liberty.
This, of course, gives us not only the prospect of watching a Michael Bloomberg-penned bill get signed into law and the wholesale violations of rights that would follow, but to the Democrats going into the fall elections with reams of Alita-Messinger-paid ads saying that GOP legislators “voted to give guns to wife beaters”. It’s a message that only the stupid would believe – but as the 2010 election showed us, there are 8,000 more stupid Minnesotans than smart ones. And that’s all they need to maintain control of the House – giving the DFL even more time and power to jam down even worse gun laws.
And worse, in its way? These astroturf groups engaged in “blue-on-blue” campaign that was either deeply stupid or intensely cynical, trying to brand not only the GOCRA but Tony Cornish as weak-kneed on gun rights.
Over a bill that was going to pass in some form no matter what anyone did, but which the DFL had to come to the Gun Rights movement for anyway.
Representative Cornish, writing on Facebook, gave us perhaps the best quote there is on the subject:
When the train is coming down the track, it’s admirable to stand and raise the middle finger, but…sometimes it’s better to do the damned best you can to change it’s route and avoid a much less desirable fate.
And those were the only two choices; throw a finger at Bloomberg, get run over by the train, and have a law that would allow people’s Second Amendment rights to get run over as well – which isn’t even a symbolic victory, since it would make taking back the House that much harder – or enact a bill that basically gave a framework to federal law that protected due process.
When you get a choice between peanut butter and lard, take the peanut butter. And this fall, find a better restaurant. One with some cooks that know how to cook a porterhouse.