Gun lobby flexing in greater Minnesota
GRAND RAPIDS, ITASCA COUNTY — Here’s how the gun rights lobby is shrewdly working to shore up local opposition to gun control bills making their way through the DFL-majority Legislature.
Last month, newly elected Itasca County Board member John Johnson requested that a pro-Second Amendment resolution be added to the consent agenda. That was on a Saturday. The meeting was on Tuesday.
The consent agenda is typically used for ordinary, small-bore issues — an equipment purchase needed, an employee retiring, an undisputed land transaction, etc.
Not resolutions that make broad statements about one of the most polarizing political issues of the past half century.
The board Chair Burl Ives approved the addition to the consent agenda. The public received no notice. The updated agenda was posted on the county bulletin board two hours before the work session, but the draft agenda — with no mention of the Second Amendment resolution vote — remained online throughout the board meeting.
The vote in Itasca County came on fast and furious, relying on well organized, mobilized support from the gun rights lobby.
The meeting was packed. Considering the late addition to the agenda, the large turn-out appeared orchestrated. Four Republican state representatives and two Republican state senators submitted letters of approval, dated the day of the meeting.
Gun supporters came and went to the mic berating government overreach, lack of transparency and infringement on the people’s rights. Several of the commissioners clapped eagerly after each speaker. The board chair praised the speakers, then followed with motions and the quick unanimous vote to pass the resolution. The audience stood and applauded, a few shouting “God Bless America.”
To anyone watching, what happened was obvious. There were no opponents. An Itasca Gun Club member who was in attendance told me members were contacted over the weekend and told to show up.
I emailed and called all the commissioners. No one responded. I left a message with the Itasca Gun Club. No one responded.
I spoke to newly elected Itasca County Sheriff Joe Dasovich. He had provided Johnson with some Second Amendment resolution samples he thought may be acceptable in Itasca. Dasovich, a combat veteran, reiterated from an earlier campaign discussion, that he is not a “Constitutional Sheriff,” which is the term some are using to claim the right to ignore state and federal gun laws. Yes, he feels strongly about the Second Amendment and does not support bill HF396, which mandates homeowners keep their firearms unloaded, locked, and ammunition stored separately.
Dasovich said he is a “statutory sheriff,” meaning he will abide by Minnesota state laws. He said going forward he could support some moderate gun-control legislation relating to public safety, such as mandatory firearms education.
The following week, at the Feb. 28th regular board meeting, the Itasca County Board chambers were packed to overflow again. This time, now mobilized, organized and outraged, citizens in opposition to the pro-gun resolution demanded to be heard.
Speakers included an emergency room doctor, a criminologist, a former city councilor, and a veteran. As well as folks from the ministry, education, labor and everyday tax-paying citizens, many of whom are hunters. They castigated the commissioners for what they called deceptive practices, county overreach, and lack of transparency. The opponents’ message: Rescind the vote.
After the board meeting, three of the five commissioners offered up some regret and said they would do better moving forward. There was no mention of taking action to reverse the resolution. My district commissioner called me the following day. He apologized for the way the whole thing was handled.
Unfortunately, this caused a loss of trust and confidence that will be far-reaching, possibly with re-election consequences.
Friends in Minnesota rural counties, and especially officeholders — take note. This is one playbook you don’t want to follow. Stick to health, human services, housing, jobs, and protecting valuable natural resources — outstate team building. Commissioners: Answer your phones, return calls and respond to emails. Don’t shut out your constituents and the media when they ask for answers.
You are elected as non-partisan county commissioners, not water carriers for the gun lobby.