ST. PAUL - Minnesotans have marched on the state Capitol by the thousands this year seeking gun control legislation, always meeting with strong Republican opposition. At least until now.
On Wednesday, April 25, House Speaker Kurt Daudt of Crown delivered the strongest GOP public comments in favor of enacting some form of gun restrictions.
When reporters asked Daudt if there is any chance for such movement, he said: "I hope that there is. I think there will be. I think there can be. I don't know what that looks like yet."
He made no promises to gun-control advocates, but said private talks among legislators as well as between pro- and anti-gun organizations are taking place. He said they mostly deal with expanding background checks that are required before buying guns.
"I hope these conversations can be fruitful," Daudt said, without spelling out how he would define a successful end to the talks.
The speaker's comments came as a liberal lawmaker ended her highly publicized 24-hour sit-in on the House floor, an effort to bring attention to the gun issue.
To make her statement, Rep. Erin Maye Quade, D-Apple Valley, sat on the floor at the front of the House chambers, accompanied by a rotating roster of other mostly Democratic legislators.
"I wanted to know that we heard them," Maye Quade said about people who have called for gun control.
Her sit-in started a day after the Star Tribune of Minneapolis released a poll showing 90 percent of Minnesotans want background checks.
The freshman lawmaker said she did not know what else to do to draw attention to the issue.
"This is going somewhere," Maye Quade said of the gun-control movement.
She said that after talking to reporters at midday Wednesday, she was headed home to rest. "I miss my wife a lot."
Maye Quade said she has not been involved in talks about getting gun-related bills in front of the Legislature. Rep. Dave Pinto, D-ST. Paul, said he has been, but gave no indication that movement is coming.
Two of Pinto's gun-control bills, including one to expand background checks, received hearings earlier this legislative session but the committee set aside the bills.
"Members still are trying to decide what changes, if any, are needed to bills before the Legislature," Daudt said.
Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, said he has not been involved in such talks with Republicans, but he plans to offer amendments on Thursday to a bill spending the $329 million state budget surplus, while also making lots of changes to state law. He said his proposed amendments would expand background checks and allow a judge to temporarily take weapons away from people deemed too dangerous to own them.
The senator said he long has pushed the two concepts, but now has made changes to satisfy gun-rights advocates.
The background check measure would establish a procedure in which a prospective gun buyer could go to a licensed gun dealer and after a background check receive a permit to buy guns for the next five years.
The Latz bill would require background checks for most sales of pistols and military-style semi-automatic weapons, but not hunting rifles and shotguns.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Bakk of Cook, a gun advocate, said he supports the Latz proposals.
"There is no question the extreme risk protection order proposal will save lives," Bakk said.
Gun control debates began across the country after February's deadly Florida school shooting. In Minnesota, Republicans who control the Legislature have consistently said that they are focusing on school safety, which the House and Senate both are expected to consider Thursday.
However, Wednesday's Daudt comments were the strongest yet from a Republican leader indicating a form of gun legislation is possible before lawmakers adjourn May 21.
The gun issue rises as lawmakers prepare for their final stretch.
On Thursday, the Senate is to debate changes in the state budget, and most of the policy issues that have been debated. House members, meanwhile, will take up a bill funding public education and higher education spending, as well as related policy.
After budget bills pass the House and Senate, they will go to a conference committee so the so chambers and the Dayton administration can negotiate a final plan.
This year's Legislature is looking at making tweaks to a $46 billion, two-year budget passed in 2017, as well as approving a public works bill and making changes to limit tax increases many Minnesotans may face after a new federal tax law was enacted.