On the day that President Obama proposed a sweeping package of gun-control measures, U.S. Sen. Al Franken signaled his support for several components of Obama's plan.
Franken, speaking during a press event in Rochester, said he supports limits on ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and tightening the nation's system of background checks. He didn't mention a ban on assault weapons, a key provision of the president's plan, during the visit, but later his staff noted he continues to support the principle of renewing an assault weapons ban, something he said shortly after the massacre at Shady Hook Elementary School where 26 children and staff were killed by a gunman.
Alexandra Fetissoff, Franken's press secretary, clarifying an earlier version of this story, said the senator supports a weapons ban in principle but wants to see what a bill contains before saying he'll vote for a specific plan.
Franken's response illustrates the rocky passage the president's aggressive gun-control plan is likely to face in Congress, where legislators will attempt to balance public safety issues with recreational and economic concerns. Minnesota is home to a vibrant gun culture, as well as many retail and gun manufacturing outlets. In talking to Minnesota deer hunters, Franken noted that many use semi-automatic rifles, but use a clip that holds only a few rounds.
"I think most people agree that you don't need 30 rounds to bring down a deer," Franken said in arguing for ammunition magazine limits.
Some bills might not even get to a vote in the GOP-run House of Representatives. And like many Senate Democrats, Franken is up for re-election in 2014, and any decisions made with regard to gun control could reverberate in congressional elections two years from now.
Obama's proposals are certain to intensify a debate that began one month after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people, including 20 young children.
Obama on Wednesday also signed 23 executive actions that do not need congressional approval and would:
• Make it easier for federal and state agencies to make data available to the national background check system.
• Launch a national campaign for safe and responsible gun ownership.
• Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes.
• Nominate a director for the Bureaus of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In addition, he called for training more law enforcement officers and implementing tougher enforcement and prosecution of existing laws. A senior administration official said the executive actions "are not a substitute for legislative action." The president wants to hire 1,000 new resource officers and counselors for schools and spend $10 million to research violence in the media.
Franken agreed with Obama's call for more mental health professionals, noting that Minnesota is ranked 48th in the nation in its ratio of school counselors to students. He said the ability to detect and treat people with mental health problems is critical in preventing violent incidents.
"If you can catch this early and treat mental health issues early, that population is no more violent than the general population," said Franken, while visiting the University of Minnesota Rochester. "But if you allow it to go untreated, that population will become more violent. If you look at any of these incidents, they've involved someone who's deranged."
In addition to UMR, Franken made swings through the Rochester Senior Center and Bowman Tool and Machining, stressing the importance of closing the state's "skills gap" through greater collaboration between schools and business.