ST. PAUL — National gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety on Wednesday, Feb. 5, announced that it planned to make a $250,000 ad buy in Minnesota aimed at putting Republicans in the state Senate "on notice."
The group said it would spend at least $60 million around the country in the lead-up to the 2020 election and the GOP-controlled state Senate would come under fire as part of that. The spend is twice what the group co-founded by Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg spent in 2018 and the group's leaders said they planned to target President Donald Trump and other elected officials that opposed gun safety legislation.
In Minnesota, the $250,000 digital ad campaign will roll out over the next several months and will urge voters to ask their lawmakers to support a pair of gun control measures aimed at enhancing background checks for some gun sales and transfers and allowing law enforcement to remove firearms if someone poses a danger to himself or others. The ads will be directed at suburban and African American women, according to a statement from Everytown.
The measures found support in the Minnesota House of Representatives last year and Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign them into law if they reach his desk. But Senate leaders didn't weigh the bills in committee hearings last year. And while leaders did take them up last month in Hibbing as part of a broader firearm policy discussion, gun control advocates said they're not confident the plans will be taken up at the Capitol.
Molly Leutz, a volunteer with Minnesota Moms Demand Action and Everytown, said the new digital ad campaign is "just the beginning." As legislators head back to St. Paul to convene the 2020 legislative session next week, she said they have "an opportunity to do the right thing, to listen to Minnesotans."
And if they don't hold hearings and pass bills, Leutz said the campaign poses a warning to lawmakers: "We will put all of our efforts into electing people who will in 2020."
The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans who hold a three-seat advantage there. And Everytown, along with Democrats supportive of the gun control measures, view flipping the chamber as key to passing legislation next year.
Senate Republicans raised $1.3 million last year and had about $1 million cash on hand heading into the election season. And some of that could be used to defend senators sitting in districts targeted by the ads. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka on Wednesday said he didn't think his caucus would take up the proposals this year and instead said senators would take up measures aimed at enforcing existing laws.
"I think we can find some common ground, but if we focus on far-right or far left, none of that is going to happen," the Nisswa Republican said during a Forum News Service legislative forum.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, rejected the assertion that the gun control measures were "far-left" and said other GOP-led states had approved similar policies.
"We are standing in the moderate middle on gun violence prevention and we are waiting on Republicans to join us," she said.
Leutz said the campaign does not target specific legislators, but the body as a whole and that Everytown and MDA are attempting to reach voters who care about gun safety to show them "they have a stake in this election."
"We see a big shift," she said. "It's something that people care about and are talking about and asking about. In the past few years, this has become a voting issue. (...) It's important that we hold legislators accountable for their record."
Everytown also planned to release public polling that they said showed widespread support for the measures as well as responses indicating the issue is key to them heading into the election.
Lawmakers are set to return to St. Paul Tuesday, Feb. 11, for the 2020 legislative session.