Senate turns back bills aimed at gun violence

Updated: 6:50 p.m. | Posted: 5:15 p.m.

The Minnesota Senate on Thursday swept aside an effort to force votes on two measures aimed at toughening state gun laws, just a day after a state House member staged a 24-hour sit-in over that chamber's inaction on measures aimed at gun violence.

Sen. Ron Latz, a St. Louis Park Democrat, offered the bills as amendments during a broader debate on the state's budget. But majority Republicans — and a few rural Democrats — voted that the bills weren't relevant to the budget issue, effectively killing them.

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One bill would expand background checks by making all gun buyers apply for permits for handguns and semi-automatic rifles. Another would allow courts to temporarily remove a person's gun access if they're a danger to themselves or others.

"It's time that we extend our background check requirements to screen out those dangerous people by covering more of our private transactions when guns change hands," Latz said before the measures went down.

Gun laws have been under scrutiny in Minnesota and nationwide after the Feb. 14 school shooting that killed 17 students and staff members in Parkland, Florida.

Despite efforts by Democrats and a handful of Republicans to advance bills targeting gun violence, neither the House nor the Senate has voted on the bills. That prompted Democratic Rep. Erin Maye Quade to stage a 24-hour sit-in protest on the House floor that ended Wednesday.

She noted several large demonstrations at the Capitol calling for lawmakers to address gun violence.

"There have been walkouts. There have been marches. There have been demonstrations. There have been sit-ins. There have been calls. There have been letters, rallies," Maye Quade said Wednesday. "I don't think Minnesotans know what else to do to have this majority hear them."

Legislation to restrict guns has long faced an uphill battle at the Capitol.

After the 2013 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, new gun restrictions fell flat in the then-Democratic-controlled Legislature, as proposals to expand background checks and ban assault rifles divided rural and urban Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, a Democrat from the Iron Range, said before Thursday's votes that he supported Latz's measures. But Republicans hold a slim majority in the chamber, and some rural Democrats also voted against the bills.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Thursday the measures Latz proposed wouldn't clear the House, and similar measures proposed in the House face stiff odds.

"I don't see a scenario where we're going to pass further restrictions on gun owners where there hasn't been some kind of common ground or consensus," Daudt said. He said the focus should instead be on funding mental health resources and funding school security projects.

The Legislature has just over three weeks to wrap up its work before a mandatory mid-May adjournment.