James Farnsworth is a student at the University of Minnesota, studying human resources. He’s also a leader for hundreds of fed-up young people.
Farnsworth helped spearhead “Florida, March for our Lives,” a St. Paul rally held in the wake of February's school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In March, about 20,000 people descended upon the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol in cold, gray weather to demand legislators do something -- anything -- about gun violence.
And it was “awesome,” Farnsworth says. But he knew that fleeting burst of activism needed to springboard into something more sustainable.
Soon afterward, Farnsworth become the state chair of Students Demand Action, national youth-led organization trying to keep the gun control movement active. SDA strives for “common sense gun violence legislation,” Farnsworth says. Mandatory background checks. Bump stock bans. Basic stuff.
The group also demands absolute clarity regarding lawmakers’ relationships with the National Rifle Association. So last week, it initiated the #GunSenseChallenge, a call for all five of Minnesota’s mainstream gubernatorial candidates to publish their responses to NRA questionnaires -- past and present.
“We want to highlight, as a matter of transparency, who’s taken money from the NRA,” Farnsworth says of the questionnaires, which include information on current and potential restrictions on gun access and ask whether the legislator will help the NRA get rid of them.
So far, only one has responded: DFL-endorsed candidate Erin Murphy. Murphy says she’s never filled out an NRA questionnaire, and she challenged her Democratic opponents, Lori Swanson and Tim Walz, to either call or fold.
Swanson, along with Republican candidate Jeff Johnson, didn’t respond to requests for comment from City Pages, and another Republican candidate, former governor Tim Pawlenty, couldn’t be reached by press time. This much is known: With the exception of Murphy, each candidate has received at least an A- rating from the NRA in the past. Walz, in particular, has been forced to reckon with his pro-gun bona fides, going as far as donating $18,000 in NRA cash he received to charity. He says he has no plans to release any questionnaires.
Farnsworth is “optimistic” the others will respond to SDA’s request. Pro-gun legislators can be dismissive when it comes to NRA transparency, he says. Some don’t take them seriously because they’re young, or they assume they’ll give up and leave them alone after a while.
When parents of the 20 massacred children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, rose up to demand change, politicians ultimately failed them. But Farnsworth is optimistic 2018 is ripe for gun control progress. That’s partly due to the continued activism from the Parkland students. After all, they’re not just students: Many of them are voters. According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, Minnesota is a top 10 state where the youth vote could be a deciding factor in the 2018 midterm elections.
“I think the midterms are going to be a big test for this,” Farnsworth says. “If young people feel like they can’t sit in their classrooms safely, that’s a problem.”