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House committee looking to take gun bill hearing off site

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Minnesota lawmakers announced — then scrapped — an off-site hearing next week on bills to impose new gun restrictions.  A new site was being discussed late Thursday with a midweek hearing still the goal.

A House DFL committee chairman said a school was his preferred setting because of notable tragedies affecting children where they should feel secure.

The House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee had announced a Wednesday evening hearing at Edina’s Valley View Middle School. The committee expected to pick a new time and place after their initial plan ran into complications.

Committee Chairman Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said students have driven the public conversation over a response to gun violence so the venue is appropriate.

“Obviously there have been other settings, but one that has particularly captured the hearts and minds and anxiety of the public has been the terrible, terrible outcomes with little children, with high schoolers,” Mariani said. “What we’ve seen in the last year is folks within those environments providing leadership to have the conversation within their schools but also taking that conversation out to the public.”

The bills at hand are considered priorities for the newly empowered House DFL. One would include more transactions for which gun purchases are subject to background checks, including private transfers and most temporary loans. The other would expand the ability of law enforcement and the courts to take away someone’s guns if they are deemed to be a serious threat to themselves or others.

Mariani said there were not plans to hold votes on the bills during an off-site hearing. He said the bills would be brought back up at a later date for consideration.

Rep. Brian Johnson, the committee’s lead Republican, said he was caught off guard by the field hearing. He said he’s worried about the public’s ability to track the deliberations remotely.

“This is the people’s house, this is where the work should be done,” Johnson said of the camera-equipped Capitol.

Johnson, a former sheriff’s deputy from Cambridge, said it’s unfair to ask local law enforcement to safeguard the hearing.

Mariani said he expects there to be security from the House Sergeant-at-Arms office on hand. But he said he anticipates “an orderly, rational, fair, transparent conversation where all perspectives can be expressed.”

DFL Gov. Tim Walz has included money in his budget to administer stepped-up gun restrictions. But Senate Republican leaders have indicated any gun control measures will have difficulty passing in that chamber.