ST. PAUL-Before the most recent mass school shooting in Florida, the gun control group known as Minnesota Moms Demand Action expected about 30 people to show up for their February rally at the state Capitol.
That rally took place Tuesday, Feb. 20. An informal headcount easily topped 200, and organizers said the 400 leaflets they brought were quickly snapped up by the sizable crowd.
"I'm new to this. This is my first time. Unfortunately, my daughter saw (a video from the Feb. 14 shootings in Parkland, Fla.) last night," said Beth Benson, 54, of Hopkins, referring to her 15-year-old child. "I tried to talk to her, but what do you say?
"I had fire drills and tornado drills in school. Now they have ... I mean, this is insane," Benson added, choking up.
The group decided weeks ago to descend on the Capitol right as legislators started the new session. Standing outside the multiple entrances of both houses Tuesday, they chanted, "Save our kids!" as aides and an occasional legislator walked into their respective chambers.
"I've been wanting to get more involved for a while. I was a kid during Columbine, there were shootings all through my college years, and now we're scared at the thought of sending our kids to school in a few years," said Katie Slack, 30, another "first-timer" from Plymouth whose three children range from 3 months to 4 years old.
Slack noted that both her parents are middle school teachers. When there was a shooting at a K-12 school, she would call them. And when she attended college, they would call her when there was a shooting at a college or university.
"It's this tragic back-and-forth," Slack said. "Something's gotta give."
Some rally-goers silently snapped photos of an inscription in the staircase hall on the Capitol's Supreme Court side, which read, "The people's safety is the law of God" - a quote by colonial lawmaker James Otis.
"It's clear from recent days that there are a number of strongly held opinions on the issue of gun rights and violence involving firearms," said Bryan Strawser, chair of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus & PAC. "We look forward to a reasoned and vigorous public debate on the issues, but their out-of-state copy-and-paste agenda does not work for Minnesotans."
There had been five pieces of legislation relating to gun control and Second Amendment issues filed when the Legislature convened Tuesday. The three that increase restrictions, all proposed by Democrats, have yet to receive a hearing, though one was filed just this month. The two bills proposed by Republicans - including "stand your ground" and "constitutional carry" bills - received a joint hearing last year, but only the "stand your ground" bill advanced out of a committee.
In the GOP-controlled Legislature, Republican committee chairs have yet to reveal what their legislative focus will be this year; those discussions will likely take place over the next week.
Brian Johnson, the new chair of the House public safety committee - through which Second Amendment legislation typically passes - has said he will likely be a strong Second Amendment advocate, much like the previous chair.
Meanwhile Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Democratic candidate for governor, released a statement via Twitter saying he would now back an assault weapons ban, along with other "common-sense solutions" to gun violence, including universal background checks, gun violence restraining orders and a bump stock ban.
The announcement represents a policy shift for Walz, whose congressional district covers rural southern Minnesota. After last fall's deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, Walz donated money he has received from the National Rifle Association to charity.
Also Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced that he had signed a memorandum instructing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ban bump stocks - devices like those used in the Las Vegas massacre that greatly increase a semi-automatic rifle's rate of fire.
The most recently filed DFL bill, sponsored by Rep. John Considine of Mankato, outlaws bump stocks in Minnesota.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service