Minn. legislators still divided on gun control after hearings

Tony Cornish
Gun rights advocate Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, wears miniature assault-type rifle and handcuffs on his suit coat as he talks with reporters during a break in a Minnesota house public safety committee hearing on two bills dealing with the gun violence issue at the State Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 in St. Paul, Minn.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

After three days of hearings this week at the state Capitol, legislators remain divided on the issue of gun control with some believing compromise and consensus can be reached, while others believe the debate to be a distraction from important budget work.

One of the top opponents of restricting guns in the Minnesota Legislature said he expects the Minnesota House will pass gun legislation this session.

DFL state Rep. Michael Paymar of St. Paul, chair of the Minnesota House public safety committee, said he thinks there's room for compromise. He said he will try to reach an agreement, and that he is not interested in crafting proposals that don't have a chance to pass.

"I think most people can agree that there should be harsher penalties for individuals who buy firearms and sell them to gang members or to felons," Paymar said. "I think that there is growing consensus that we should have universal background checks to ensure that those who are disqualified from owning a pistol or semiautomatic weapon don't."

Committee hearings this week took up three days to discuss a variety of proposed gun bills, including measures that would ban assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines and one that would expand background checks to all gun purchases.

Republican Rep. Tony Cornish of Vernon Center said those bans won't pass, but that does not mean the Legislature won't do anything on guns.

"The Democrats and the Republicans are pretty confident they can work with and bring out something that will reduce the real bad characters from getting guns and increase penalties for crimes committed with guns," Cornish said. "There is some light that will come out of this."

Rich Stanek
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek arrives before a packed hearing room to testify before a house public safety committee hearing testimony at the State Capitol on two bills dealing with the gun violence issue Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 in St. Paul, Minn.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown said he thinks this week's hearings on several DFL-backed gun bills were a "distraction" from important budget work.

Daudt told reporters Friday that he has not closely looked at the dozen bills heard this week by the House Public Safety committee, but he does not believe there is room for any bipartisan consensus. Daudt said he has received hundreds of messages from Minnesotans concerned about the Legislature's focus on guns.

"All of them organic e-mails, just people concerned about 'why are you doing this," Daudt said. "A lot of them saying 'you've got a lot of other stuff to focus on in St. Paul. Don't be infringing on our 2nd amendment rights. Get to work on the budget.'"

DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said he was pleased with the hearings and thinks a consensus on gun legislation can be reached this session.

After this week's House committee hearings, the attention will soon shift to the state Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee is planning two days of hearings later this month on a similar batch of bills.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook said Friday that he expects a gun bill to reach the floor this session, but doesn't know what it might look like. Bakk, an avid hunter and gun owner, said he is interested in some of the recent proposals from Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

"I think the idea of the straw purchases that he proposed where somebody knowingly purchases a gun on behalf of a felon, I mean I think that's serious. That's aiding and abetting," Bakk said. "I think the things he laid out are something I certainly support having a good conversation of, and at first blush at least I think I support."

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