by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Most people in the 8th Congressional District understand his position on gun control, Congressman Rick Nolan says.
Nolan, a newly elected Democrat, has been outfront in support of renewing the assault weapon ban and limiting the size of bullets clips for weapons.
On CBS’s “Face the Nation” last Sunday, Nolan called the assault weapon ban, in effect from 1994 to 2004, common sense legislation.
He didn’t need an assault weapon in order to shoot a duck, Nolan quipped.
Nolan again voiced his support for the assault weapon ban while visiting the Minnesota State Capitol this week.
“Most hunters don’t want, nor do they need, an assault rifle,” said Nolan, speaking over the Capitol cafeteria din,
“Nor do they need a 20 or 50 shell clip magazine. And they don’t have a problem with background checks,” he said.
Nolan insisted his stance on the ban isn’t as politically chancy as it might seem, given the hunting and gun-owning traditions of the 8th District.
“At first blush it might appear to be a controversial stand,” he said.
“But the general public for sure, and most hunters and fisherman, they’re comfortable. They understand,” Nolan said.
A congressional veteran who returned to politics to defeat Republican 8th District Congressman Chip Cravaack last election, Nolan indicated a let-the-chips-fall stance towards the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA).
The NRA hammered him during the final days of the campaign, he said.
They had a massive telephone campaign, Nolan said.
But their arguments weren’t true.
“I’m a big Second Amendment supporter,” Nolan insisted.
Indeed, Nolan suggests gun control is secondary in importance in preventing shooting sprees like the recent elementary school massacre in Connecticut.
First, he said, is mental health intervention.
“That has to be the cornerstone of it,” Nolan said of a national response.
“That’s every bit, if not more important, quite frankly, than the gun control measures,” he said.
A “psychotically crazy” person, intent on destruction, will do what he or she can whether armed with a gun holding five bullets or 50, he said.
“And you don’t want to risk one life,” he said.
It’s rare for a mentally ill person to become violent, said Nolan.
But there’s additional value to improving mental health outreach.
“I want to see them (the mentally ill) in a healthy state of mind going to work every day — taking care of their family,” he said.
No one absolutely knows whether a given step will prevent a mentally ill person from committing acts of violence, Nolan explained.
“We should have at least tried better to find a way to deal with that person’s demons before they result in the tragic circumstance we’re looking at,” he said.
While Democratic President Barack Obama in December spoke of taking a closer look at a culture that too often glorifies guns and violence, Nolan sees little reason for Congressional action.
Perhaps violent movies can influence the actions of a demented mind.
“(But) it’s part of a free and democratic society. And real freedom is tolerating things you don’t accept and in many cases find reprehensible,” Nolan said.
“Freedom defined by whatever government happens to be in power at the time, that’s not freedom,” he said.
Carleton College Political Science Professor Steven Schier said Nolan could be running some political risk with his stance on the assault weapon ban.
“But that risk is probably lessened by the Connecticut tragedy and by the timing of his announcement,” Schier said in an email.
Nolan has just been elected, and his comments may be of less importance to voters had they been made closer to Election Day.
“Also, pro-gun groups are not part of his core support in the district,” Schier said.
Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Chairman David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, recently said while some kinds of hunting, such as deer hunting, requires only one or two shots, other forms of hunting could necessitate the use of bullet clips.
Turning to other things, Nolan, who had come from a meeting with Minnesota Agriculture Department officials, spoke of working with them on collaborative issues.
Nolan was recently appointed to the House Agriculture Committee and also serves on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Forestry, quite frankly, is my number one concern,” said Nolan, who used to run a pallet-making company.
“The forest product industry is in trouble — no small part to advancing technology,” he said of the decline in paper use.
Nolan also views his infrastructure and transportation committee assignment important to the district.
“A lot of people don’t realize Duluth is the of the 20 biggest ports in North America,” he said.
National Republicans often characterize Nolan as the hipster in a blazer— a product of the 1970s, the decade he served in Congress.
Nolan, after a minute’s reflection, mentioned a few things people might not know about him.
He drilled for oil in the Persian Gulf — lived in the Middle East for four years, speaks a little Arabic.
He met with the Mujahideen in the Khyber Pass when they were fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, he said.
He sold chickens to Venezuela.
“I’ve done a little business all over the globe,” he said.
And it was as a businessman overseas that he really felt of the pulse of the foreign street, what people in the bazaars were saying about America.
In general, the world holds a favorable opinion of the United States, he said.
They speak glowingly of many American values.
But not always of the U.S. government.
“‘Why the hell doesn’t your government in its treatment of us reflect that (American values)?’” Nolan said, summarizing the attitudes of some foreigners he has met.
A “great bunch of (new) people” have been elected to Congress, Nolan said.
But he repeated a criticism voiced during the campaign.
That is, Congress doesn’t meet enough.
When he first served, the House worked 48 weeks out of year, mostly four, five days week, he said.
Congress is scheduled to work 32 weeks, he said.
“We’re schedule to meet 17 days between now and sequestration,” Nolan said of automatic federal budget actions.
Nolan argues the perceived lack of Congressional focus stems from a political process awash in money.
He styled the millions spent in the 8th District race as “obscene, toxic.”
Members of Congress are expected to spend 30 hours a week “in call time” dialing for campaign dollars, he said.
“I’m not doing it,” Nolan said.
“I’m pretty, deeply committed to doing what I think is the right things to do. And then letting the chips fall where they may,” he said of his approach to life.
And he counts himself lucky.
“I am so goldarn excited about getting a chance at doing it again,” Nolan said of serving in Congress.
Tim Budig is at [email protected]