Senator with NRA tie joins push for new gun laws

Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, stands in his office on Jan. 4, 2017. Brian Bakst | MPR News 2017

Updated Monday 3 p.m.

  1. Listen MPR News Brian Bakst talks about Minn. gun and school safety legislation

    March 12, 2018

A Republican state senator who is a National Rifle Association member added his voice Monday to a push for new gun restrictions in Minnesota.

First-term Sen. Scott Jensen of Chaska appeared at a news conference with Democratic colleagues to announce proposals they hope can advance this legislative session. Fellow Republican freshman, Sen. Paul Anderson of Plymouth, also participated with DFL Sens. Matt Little of Lakeville and Susan Kent of Woodbury.

Jensen, who has a permit to carry, said he is an NRA member but has never accepted campaign money from the group. Anderson said he too is a member of the NRA, although he doesn’t own a gun.

One bill requires background checks for all gun sales and transfers, unless it’s a gun being passed on to a family member or other limited circumstances. The other would require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms or face punishment if that gun winds up in the wrong hands.

Little said they are a measured response to recent mass shootings.

“Some people will say that this won’t stop the next school shooting. But they simply cannot know that. And it just might. People will say this won’t solve all gun crimes, and that’s true. Of course, no single solution will end all gun violence. That’s a ridiculous and cynical standard used by some to prevent change.”

Jensen said he supports widening the use of background checks in gun sales in an attempt to prevent ineligible people from obtaining firearms. Jensen said the time has come for universal background checks.

“We’re willing to do background checks on Sunday school teachers. When I hire a medical assistant in my clinic I can do a background check there,” Jensen, a medical doctor, said in an interview with MPR News. “But we want to be able to sell guns and handguns and assault rifles and not do background checks because they bought it over the internet or they bought it at a private gun show? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Jensen said he’s willing to take heat for his stance in his conservative district. He said the Legislature’s focus should be on achievable solutions rather than measures seen as more politically divisive.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus  panned Jensen as a liar who betrayed his gun-owning voters. They brought up a questionnaire he filled out during the 2016 campaign in which he said he wouldn’t back expanded gun background checks.

“I do think he’s going to have a hard time seeking re-election if he intends to,” said Rob Doar, the political director for the group.

Jensen says where a gun is purchased shouldn’t matter and he’s changed his mind on the topic of broadened background checks.

“I’m confident we’ll have a robust discussion. And it’s not going to be just one or two phone calls based on what the phone has been doing this morning. But if I do, que sera.”

The Senate is controlled 34-33 by Republicans, but the gun issue doesn’t fall neatly along party lines. Some DFLers from rural districts have opposed gun restrictions.

It’s not clear if the plan will get a hearing prior to a March 22 deadline for bills to clear at least one committee.

As the four senators were laying out their plan, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka issued a statement that said the focus should be more on school safety and security than on guns. Gazelka’s statement read in part: “We can all agree on increasing the security of school buildings and improving mental health resources for students. There is no time to waste on ideas that don’t work, or have no chance of passing the legislature this year.”

Earlier this session, the House Public Safety and Judiciary Committee put a debate on hold over two gun bills, including one that dealt with background checks. That bill had nearly three dozen DFL sponsors and one Republican co-sponsor, Edina Rep. Dario Anselmo.

  • Beth-Ann Bloom

    My hope is that as a physician Sen Jensen will also support the “red flag” bill that Rep Pinto has proposed to support concerned family members by establishing a path for due process to safely relocate guns when a person’s access to the guns constitutes danger.

    • Frank

      My hope is that every clear thinking legislator sees Rep Pinto and his ilk as a red flags.

  • Pat Watson

    We should just open up background checks to everyone. Neighbor, babysitter, romantic partner, co-worker….anyone. Truly “universal” background checks.

    If you have nothing to hide. Right?

    • Sam1474

      Everyone has something to hide, you just don’t believe they will find yours.

  • BMWfan

    I would expect someone who is able to become a doctor to have enough intelligence to see that this bill will do NOTHING to stop criminals from getting guns.
    Quote from above: “Jensen said he supports widening the use of background checks in gun sales in an attempt to prevent ineligible people from obtaining firearms. Jensen said the time has come for universal background checks.” — there he says “in an attempt” which is exactly all this is.

    What criminal is going to buy a guy from somewhere they know is going to do a background check on them? They know they won’t pass and won’t even try. The only people this will affect is the already law-abiding citizen.

    The criminal will continue to get stolen guns, get them from their criminal buddies or go through a straw purchase — all illegal activities.

    New laws are fine if they will actually be effective.

    Jensen shows his lack of gun knowledge in further comments about buying over the Internet or gun shows. If you buy from an FFL dealer, whether over the Internet, at their retail store or at a gun show – YOU WILL have to go through a background check. These dealers will be in heap big trouble if they don’t do a background check on you. If you buy on the Internet, the gun will get shipped to an FFL dealer locally who WILL do a background check on you before giving you the gun.

    The only time a background check is not required is if you buy from a PRIVATE party, not a dealer. And, most people selling privately WILL take a picture of your license or otherwise do their best to make sure you’re not a criminal. No one wants criminals to have guns.

    Instead of toothless laws that won’t have any impact, they need to come up with solutions that will actually affect the criminals only, not the law-abiding that won’t be holding up the gas station.

    Jensen and Anderson need to be a 1-term Senators.