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Interview with Maggiy Emery, Project Minnesota

Maggiy Emery, Interim Executive Director, Project Minnesota

The movement to prevent gun violence just won a big victory in Minnesota with the passage of statewide public safety legislation that includes key gun violence prevention measures. 

We talked to Maggiy Emery, interim Executive Director at Fund for a Safer Future grantee Protect Minnesota, on May 18th – the eve of Governor Tim Walz signing the Omnibus Public Safety Bill.

Congratulations on getting this legislation passed. What’s the process been in getting to this point, and what are the key gun violence measures in the bill?

It’s really been a decades long process to get this over the finish line. Protect Minnesota was founded in 1991, 32 years ago. And for the past decade, we’ve been working really hard on some key pieces of legislation.

This year, we have a gun violence prevention majority in the House, so we knew we had the opportunity for progress.  After some really, really hard work to get more moderate senators to join us on this legislation, the omnibus bill was voted out of the Senate and the House, and tomorrow it will be on the governor’s desk. 

It’s a great big public safety omnibus with three crucial gun violence prevention measures. The first is extreme risk protection orders. In Minnesota, even more than in other states, suicides represent the vast majority of gun deaths. We know that in states where they’ve been enacted, extreme risk protection orders can be effective in preventing up to 12-13% of firearm suicides. Here in Minnesota, that could be over 100 people a year. 

Second is universal background checks, to ensure that federal background checks are done on every single firearm purchased in Minnesota, not just those done through a federally licensed firearms dealer. 

Third is $70 million in funding for community violence intervention, an on-the-ground public safety strategy, led by people who are from and of the communities they’re working in. These community leaders really know the key players, the young folks who are at risk, and can talk to and help them come to a place where they’re not involved in violence.

These are things that Minnesota has been behind on for a long time, and now that we’ve got them over the finish line, we have a real opportunity to do even more lifesaving work and enact more pieces of lifesaving legislation. So this is only a beginning for us here in Minnesota. It’s worth celebrating, but it’s getting us up to the starting line. 

You talk about bringing more moderate senators to your side in this process. What were the challenges in doing that? And how did you move them?

The key challenge is overcoming this incorrect narrative we hear, that most people really love their firearms, that most people don’t want any kind of safety measures coming from the legislature. We know for a fact that that’s incorrect but the narrative has been so pervasive that it really took some convincing to help moderate senators understand that’s not the case here in Minnesota. 

The tactics were really traditional organizing, making sure constituents were reaching out regularly to let senators know how important this issue is to them. We also did some polling in key districts that showed that these are really popular measures across parties and demographics. 

And then there was the research.  Protect Minnesota traditionally has been the only organization in the state that publishes research around gun violence and about who’s dying from firearms. And so we knew that one of the key moderate senators who we really needed to get over the line came from the Senate district that experienced the most firearm deaths in Minnesota in 2021. So we knew that this was an issue in his district, even if he wasn’t hearing much about it. But he knew his district had seen a lot of suicides. This issue was real for his constituents. And so being able to bring that research not only to him but to the other senators and say, hey, the media narrative might seem like this issue doesn’t happen where you are. But it does. Look at these lives we’re losing without these common sense regulations.

What’s been the particular role played by Protect Minnesota?

The first thing is that we are the only statewide, state-based gun violence prevention organization here in Minnesota, which really gives us the flexibility to be responsive and look at patterns that are happening statewide and only here in the state. 

Minnesota doesn’t look like Wisconsin or California or Oregon or anywhere else. So it’s important for us to have a really deep understanding of the firearms landscape here and how to message around it: What’s going to be helpful in talking about it here in Minnesota that might not resonate on a national scale? 

The other thing we’re really proud of is the work we’ve done building coalitions, working with the other gun violence prevention groups that are present here. You know, Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords. We’ve been working really closely with those folks. But the other piece we’ve been working hard on is bringing in folks who aren’t traditionally in the gun violence space, but who are really impacted by gun violence. And working with them to show up and say these are measures that will help my community. When we all come together, we’re more powerful. 

Interview edited for length and clarity.