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GOP ices gun restriction bills at Minnesota Capitol

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Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus political director Rob Doar
Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus political director Rob Doar takes questions from the media after the committee hearing.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated 2:50 p.m. | Posted 8:31 a.m.

Minnesota Republican lawmakers on Thursday stopped two DFL gun bills — one to expand background checks to private gun sales and transfers and another that would have let family members temporarily restrict a loved one's access to firearms.

A majority of Republicans in the House's public safety committee voted to indefinitely set aside the background checks expansion. The final vote was 9-7, with one Republican, Rep. Keith Franke of St. Paul Park, voting with Democrats to keep the measure alive.

Republicans stopped the second bill shortly after that in a 10-6 vote.

The legislative drama Thursday came after scores of gun control supporters and gun owners rushed to the Capitol after Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, used an obscure parliamentary rule to force the vote on the expanded background checks bill and the temporary restriction bill.

DFL Rep. Dave Pinto defends one of two bills he presented
DFL Rep. Dave Pinto defends one of two bills he presented in a house public safety committee hearing inside the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday, Mar. 1, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Expanding background checks to private sales and transfers could be done without impinging on the rights of hunters, Pinto argued.

"We can keep more guns out of the hands of dangerous people and also uphold the rights of those Minnesotans. We can do both," he told fellow House members. "We must do both."

But Joe Olson, a Mitchell Hamline University law professor who has been active in Minnesota gun debates for three decades, said it wouldn't do what supporters hope. "No background check can stop an evil mind or reveal undiagnosed insanity."

The debate brought a swarm of orange-shirted gun control supporters to the Capitol — their shirts reading "Minnesotan Against Getting Shot" — as well as gun owners wearing Second Amendment buttons.

Hours before the committee gaveled in, crowds grew outside the hearing room. Some people on opposing sides were having civil debates as they waited. But mostly, they kept to their own.

Jeff Gigler, who sold the orange gun control shirts, said the use of hunters' color was intentional. "It really bothers the opposition," he said.

Gun control supporters and opponents crowd hearing rooms at the capitol.
Gun control supporters and opponents crowd hearing rooms at the capitol on March 1, 2018 to listen to testimony on two bills.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Gun rights supporters were decked out in their own maroon shirts proclaiming them to be gun owners and buttons saying the Second Amendment needs protecting. Some of them, though, couldn't resist buying the blaze orange "Minnesotan Against Getting Shot" shirts.

Gun restriction measures have not fared well in recent years at the GOP-controlled Legislature. Gun-rights supporter Tim Grant of Edina said he and others are intent on keeping it that way.

  "It's always important to kill these things at the earliest possible stage. And that's this. That's today," he said prior to the committee hearing.

Gun control supporters had hoped the national debate after last month's school shooting in Florida would shift views at the Legislature.

"Since the mass shooting in Florida, seeing our youth stand up and basically saying to the adults, 'You're not adulting on this. You're not keeping us safe,' I think has really helped people who have might have been hesitant on this issue step up and start leading," Nancy Nord Bence of the gun control group Protect Minnesota said before the hearing began.

Bence said she expected the gun issue to play a big role in the upcoming elections regardless of whether new laws pass first.