Senate leader pledges hearing on gun bills with conditions

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Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Wednesday that a hearing on gun legislation is possible this year if bills to restrict firearms pass through the Democratic-led House as standalone measures.

The prospect for a hearing and potential votes on background check and temporary gun revocation bills has heartened supporters of those measures. While there has been momentum in the House, the bills have been stalled in the Senate.

Gazelka said he discussed his conditions -- the hearing would be more expansive than the two bills getting the most attention -- with House leadership and DFL Gov. Tim Walz at their regular breakfast meeting. The Star Tribune first reported on the shift in tone from Gazelka, who previously expressed little appetite to take up the restrictive gun bills.

“If the House begins to move on their end, then we are willing to take a look at it on our side,” Gazelka said. “I’m not so sure it’s going to pass on our side. In fact I don’t think it’s going to pass on our side. But I think an open hearing on it is worthwhile.”

One bill awaiting a vote in the House would require background checks on all but a few types of gun sales and transfers. The other would give law enforcement greater latitude to seek a court-ordered revocation of guns if they or a person's family believes there's a risk of gun violence. It's possible both could be put to up-or-down votes on their own and tucked into budget bills, which would put them in the end-of-session mix.

But Gazelka, who personally opposes the House bills, said the gun bills don't belong in budget negotiations and could put those in jeopardy.

He stressed that such a Senate committee hearing would also involve bills favored by gun-rights supporters. That includes an expansion of self-defense laws and a measure to step up penalties for gun transfers to someone whom the seller knows to be ineligible to have a firearm.

Gazelka said a Senate hearing next year on guns is likely regardless of what happens in the House. Gun bills go first to the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, where Republicans have a 6-3 edge.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, wasn’t sure how big of a step forward Gazelka’s new posture represents.

"I don’t want to have a situation in which they have a hearing just for the sake of killing it and saying ‘We’re not going to do anything,' which is what happened on marijuana legislation,” Winkler said. “As long as it is a good-faith effort to be open to what the House is proposing, it’s encouraging.”