Gun bills remain stuck despite effort to dislodge them

A last-ditch attempt to revive a pair of gun control bills fizzled Tuesday, likely sealing their fate for the rest of Minnesota’s legislative session.

Rep. David Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, tried to advance bills to broaden background checks and to allow seizure of firearms from people regarded as a risk. Both had been indefinitely suspended after a House Public Safety and Security Policy Committee hearing weeks ago, and the votes Tuesday against moving them forward were identical.

With a committee deadline for action on Thursday and no signs of movement in the House or Senate, it is highly improbable that either bill reaches Gov. Mark Dayton for his promised signature. There could be attempts to force floor votes, but that route is seldom successful.

After the votes, advocates for tighter gun restrictions jeered lawmakers, asking aloud “how do you sleep at night” and chanting “vote them out” as they left the hearing room. The committee’s chairman promptly gaveled the meeting to a close.

“I’m disgusted,” said Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of Protect Minnesota. “These people are on the public safety committee and yet they’re choosing to allow people to buy guns illegally in our state. The only people that are kept from purchasing guns by criminal background checks are criminals who would not pass a background check.”

Pinto said he had no indication going in that the votes would be different. Indeed, the 9-7 margin to stop the background check bill -- where Republican Rep. Keith Franke of St. Paul Park was the sole lawmaker to break party ranks -- was the same as last time. That was also true of the 10-6 vote to idle the bill that would allow law enforcement or family members to petition for temporary court orders to revoke guns from people who pose a risk from themselves or others.

“Legislators respond to the public, and the public is demanding these sorts of changes and the public is resisting this sort of inaction,” Pinto said after.

Committee Chairman Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said he doesn’t foresee the Legislature passing any significant gun legislation this year. He said he doubted the proposals put forward would prevent tragedies like the mass shooting at a Florida high school that added fuel to the recent legislative push in Minnesota and elsewhere.

“I will never say it can’t happen. But I believe we have very good laws in place right now. The minute you say it can’t happen, it will. So I won’t say it can’t happen,” Johnson said. “But you could have the strongest laws in the world and it could still happen.”

Johnson said the sides in this debate should keep talking and strive for common-ground actions.

“What I’ve learned in my years down here if we act quick and on emotion, we usually get it wrong,” Johnson said. “Let’s be very careful how we do things to make sure that we do it right.”

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