Pair of gun proposals stymied in split vote

Two proposals to toughen Minnesota gun laws fell to party-line votes Tuesday in a House-Senate conference committee, a step supporters said still could be revisited but that opponents contend is the final word for the year.

The votes -- five Democrats were in favor and five Republicans opposed -- followed hours of discussion by the panel working on public safety and judiciary budget plans. For the provisions to get into the final bill, three members of each chamber's negotiating contingent would have to back them, a tall order given the makeup of the panel.

The votes were on proposals to expand circumstances that require gun background checks and to permit revocation of guns from people deemed an imminent threat. Both are part of a public safety budget bill passed by the House.

Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, pressed to expand background checks to cover private gun transfers as a backstop against ineligible people obtaining firearms through channels with looser regulations.

“This is something that responsible gun owners in many cases already do. They would not give their guns to somebody else without knowing the person receiving it is eligible to receive it,” Pinto said. “It is time, members, to require that all firearm owners live up to that same standard.”

Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said the step is too intrusive and treats everyone with suspicion. Johnson used his own household as an example, saying his neighbor has loaned the senator’s wife a gun for peace of mind while he’s out of town during the legislative session.

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“It’s not always somebody behind the 7-11 that’s transferring a gun. It’s neighbors, it’s friends. It’s those people that are hunting together. It’s hunting parties,” Johnson said. “It’s not always the same.”

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said too many transactions are slipping past the background check system required when someone buys a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer.

“So that would be a bit like going to the airport and trying to get on a plane and 60 percent of the people would go through security and 40 percent wouldn’t,” Latz said. “I don’t know anyone in this day and age who would be comfortable getting on a plane in those circumstances. Yet that’s what we do essentially with the transfer of firearms.”

It remains unlikely that the gun proposals will overcome stiff Senate Republican resistance this year.

Rob Doar, political director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said the background check proposal is more likely to ensnare a legal gun owner "in a paperwork mistake than they are to catch or obstruct a criminal who is already entering the illicit market to circumvent the background check process."

Dakota County Sheriff Tim Leslie spoke for a law enforcement coalition representing police chiefs and sheriffs. He expressed support for the bills, and said changes to the red-flag proposal along the way would give law enforcement more discretion in how they carry out protective orders to remove guns from a dangerous situation.

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, said the plans remained flawed and he grew frustrated by the attention to the gun legislation with so much else in flux.

“We’re in conference committee. We have a few days left in session. There are no budget targets. Not a single budget bill has passed, and we’re spending time talking about divisive bills that aren’t ready,” Zerwas said.