Others’ opinion: Decorum gets kicked and stomped at the State Capitol

Published 7:55 am Thursday, February 28, 2019

Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The debate over gun violence is contentious, and passions run high on both sides. But that in no way excuses the remarks made Saturday by second-term House Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel, at a rally of gun rights advocates.

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Bahr told the crowd at the State Capitol that “there are a lot of us in this room who’ve had enough, and it is time to start riding herd on these people who want to take away your rights from you. They will not go quietly into the good night. They need to be kicked to the curb and stomped on and run over a few times.”

People. Minnesotans. Whom Bahr apparently believes should be kicked, stomped and run over. A few times.

This is appallingly violent rhetoric from someone entrusted by voters to represent his district and take part in decisions that affect all Minnesotans. It has no place in civil discourse. As coarse as political debate can be, this remains shocking and reprehensible language. Elected officials must be held to a higher standard that respects all voters, all viewpoints, even as they fight for their own.

It was reassuring to see Gov. Tim Walz and three legislative leaders step forward with their own condemnation of Bahr’s remarks. Walz issued a statement on Sunday saying, “Encouraging violence endangers our communities and undermines our democracy, particularly when the statement is made by an elected official … this type of language is unacceptable and demands condemnation from people of all political parties.”

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, in response to a request from an editorial writer, said Monday that while House Republicans oppose new gun restrictions, “The comments made over the weekend by a member of another caucus were inappropriate and cast a negative light on those with earnest and well-founded concerns” about upcoming gun bills. Bahr is part of a recently formed, four-member “New House Republican Caucus” that has formally separated from Daudt’s caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, also reproached Bahr, saying via Twitter that “I’m opposed to universal background checks but this kind of language does not belong in any debate at the #mnleg.”

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, rightly noted that “a hallmark of our country’s democracy is that we resolve disputes without recourse to violence. The Minnesota House of Representatives will foster a safe and respectful conversation on the issue of gun violence prevention.”

That last will be especially important as the House begins hearings this week on two critically important gun laws to expand background checks and provide common-sense restraints on those whom a court finds to be a danger to themselves or others.

Bahr told KSTP that his remarks were taken out of context. But there is no context that would justify urging violence. And there was none in his extended remarks, which an editorial writer listened to in their entirety. Bahr opened with a call to put unrestricted gun rights in the state Constitution, made his “kicked to the curb” comments and closed by warning that attempts to “steal your arms” could result in revolution.

The discussion this session on the sensitive and polarizing issues surrounding guns should be undertaken without intimidation, fear of physical violence or harassment. Minnesotans on all sides of the issue are entitled to make their feelings known and expect lawmakers to listen.

Bahr is entitled to his own views and to vote accordingly, but he crossed a dangerous line on Saturday. Serving in the House is not a one-issue job. Bahr is a member of the education, jobs, judiciary and civil law committees. Important matters will be discussed in all.

Bahr offered a “sorry for the confusion” statement to House members Monday that is itself a sorry substitute for a genuine apology that acknowledges wrongdoing and offers remorse. Bahr should do both, and then find more productive ways to employ the power and responsibility he holds.