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Walz presses Minnesota Republicans to hear gun bills

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. He says he wants hearings on stalled gun legislation in light of the weekend mass shootings in Ohio and Texas but that leaders in Minnesota’s GOP-controlled Senate won't commit.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News File

Updated 6:11 p.m. | Posted 11:38 a.m.

Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he pressed the Minnesota Senate’s top Republican to convene hearings on stalled gun legislation prior to next year’s session. But Walz said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka made no commitments.

Walz was already due to speak with Gazelka by phone on other topics.

The DFL governor says the weekend’s mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, which claimed 31 lives combined and injured dozens more, have again put needed focus on access to firearms.

“Can we at least have a hearing, can we at least discuss this, can we at least look at if there is a combination of things?” Walz said. “I just think the deafening silence of not doing anything, of rejecting the call to hold a hearing just can’t go on any longer.”

Last spring, the state House passed bills to impose stricter background checks in Minnesota and give authorities more power to revoke guns from people deemed a risk. But the proposals went nowhere in the Senate to the frustration of Walz.

“To hide and say that you’re not even going to discuss firearms,” he said. “Those days are over.”

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman sided with the governor.

“The Minnesota House has done everything it can in order for the state of Minnesota to take action to change the law. It’s frustrating to not have a willing partner in the Republican-led Senate,” Hortman said. “And I’m very hopeful that they will begin to very seriously consider these provisions.”

Walz noted that several senators are already planning to be at the Capitol next week to discuss problems at the Department of Human Services, so they should take on another pressing issue in guns.

Sunday night on Twitter, Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said most gun purchases are already subject to background checks.

”Universal background checks on sales to relatives and friends have not proven to eliminate deranged murderers from killing innocent people,” Gazelka wrote. “We will focus on mental health issues, and tougher penalties when thugs use guns.”

A statement issued Monday mirrored the tweet, although it added that Gazelka was “looking for solutions that work and have significant bipartisan support.”

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said supporters of gun law changes have already moderated them to protect the rights of gun owners.

Latz said his bill to impose a “permit to purchase” requirement that would be accompanied by background check screenings deserves to move forward. Latz said he’s worked to make the requirements more manageable for people looking to buy or sell guns.

“People who lawfully own firearms who don’t have an already prohibited background would not be affected by this at all except for an annual permit, which would be free,” Latz said on an MPR News call-in show.

Republicans who lead the state Senate haven’t held hearings on the Latz bill. The 2020 session begins in February and is scheduled to adjourn in May.

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