A ban on certain assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, tighter background checks and measures to keep guns out of the hands of felons are among the solutions legislators are looking at in the wake of a series of high-profile shootings across the country.
House and Senate DFLers on Thursday proposed bills that would expand background checks to the purchase of all pistols and semiautomatic weapons -- including those sold at gun shows or between private parties. The manufacture and sale of some assault weapons and ammunition clips would be banned, and measures would be taken to prevent guns from being sold or given to felons who cannot legally buy or possess firearms.
Other proposals would make it tougher for felons to get gun rights restored and would more severely punish permit-holders if they carry weapons in prohibited areas.
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, the Legislature's leading gun-rights advocate, said he would try to block most of those proposals. Cornish previously said he would push a bill to arm teachers and school workers, but now says he won't. "I want to concentrate all my time and effort into exposing these people that introduce the bills for the gun-grabbers that they really are," Cornish said.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, who will kick off three days of gun hearings on Tuesday, will personally carry the bill on expanded background checks. He introduced the bill Thursday and got a ringing endorsement from two key law-enforcement groups -- police chiefs and frontline officers.
"There are wide gaps in our background law that allow an estimated 40 percent of gun sales to go through without a background check," said Dennis Flaherty, head of the state's Police and Peace Officers Association, as he endorsed Paymar's bill. Dave Pecchia, head of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said the bill would help prevent "criminals and those with mental health issues from gaining access to a pistol."
Paymar said his bill would not apply to sales of hunting rifles or to transfers of weapons among relatives. For the sales of pistols and semiautomatic weapons, the same checks that now apply to sales by licensed dealers would extend to other transactions.
"This simply says if you're going to purchase a weapon at a gun show or over the Internet or at a private sale, you have to go through the same process of getting a background check," Paymar said.
The National Rifle Association, a lobbying force at the Capitol, instantly came out against the proposal. Cornish said he views it as a step toward a statewide registry of guns, which "is like heresy to the NRA and gun owners." Paymar called his bill a common-sense measure with widespread support even among gun owners.
Guns and kids
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman presented a package backed by state and urban prosecutors aimed at keeping guns away from felons and juveniles. Felony domestic assault would be added to the list of "crimes of violence," creating a felony penalty for those convicted of these crimes who later possess a weapon illegally. The proposals would raise the penalty for juveniles who possess pistols and assault weapons and would make it a crime to help someone get a gun when that person is disqualified from gun ownership.
Freeman was joined by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the House Civil Law Committee. Latz said his committee will hear all gun-related bills Feb. 21 and 22.
The assault-weapons and large-capacity magazine bans, considered harder to pass than expanded background checks, will be sponsored in the House by Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. She said she is concerned about the disparity in gun deaths in the U.S. compared with other developed countries.
First-term Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, a police officer and paramedic, introduced a measure that would allow local police more discretion in granting weapons permits. In cases where they know of mental health issues and police calls from applicants, police could seek a medical evaluation or doctor's letter before granting the permit.
Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, wants to increase the penalty for permit-holders who carry weapons in establishments where they are prohibited from doing so, and who refuse requests to leave.
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042