Gun show checks section of weapons bill heads to the floor

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Two days after a gun bill that contained universal background checks was pulled by its sponsor, a House committee gave approval to another bill containing a provision that was just as problematic for some people.

“Gun violence is an important issue … and this is only one piece of the solution,” Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) said shortly before HF285 was approved 10-8 Thursday by the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee and sent to the House floor. Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter) was the lone DFLer to join Republicans in voting “no.”

Sponsored by Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), HF285 contains a number of non-controversial provisions that prosecutors sought in dealing with gun violence, and one that Republicans said they could support. However, amended onto the bill was an attempt to close what supporters call a gun-show loophole.

“If you are going to purchase a pistol or a semiautomatic weapon at a gun show you will be required to have a background check,” Paymar said after the vote. “That was a huge piece of the puzzle we were looking for. … I’m hopeful that when we get to the House Floor we’ll see other amendments that deal with gun violence, including the provision on universal background checks, and have that debate, that discussion and have that vote on the House floor.”

Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) and Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) were the only Republicans to speak before the vote.

“We object to the poison pill being added to the good bill,” Cornish said. “Hopefully, we’ll continue this discussion on the House Floor … you and I will engage in a lengthy debate.”

“It’s unfortunate we put this amendment on today and you won’t have support from this side,” Kelly added.

What changes and what doesn’t

The process for purchasing a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer at a gun show would not change; however, for person-to-person sales, the buyer would need to show either a permit to purchase or a permit to carry.

“In order to get a permit to purchase, you have to go to your police chief or sheriff and get a background check, which will take five to seven days. That’s where they check with the (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) and the Department of Human Services to make sure you’re not disqualified,” Paymar said. A person illegally selling a handgun or a semi-automatic rifle could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Paymar expects “lots of amendments” to be offered if the bill comes up on the House Floor. He will not offer a universal background check amendment — something he has championed — but expects another member to do so.

“At the end of the day, I want members of the Legislature to vote on this bill and, hopefully, universal background checks,” he said.

A person convicted of a crime of violence is ineligible to purchase firearms for life. The bill would add to a crime a violence felony fifth-degree assault, domestic assault by strangulation and unlawful possession of firearms by juveniles.

The bill would also bar people ineligible to own a firearm from possessing ammunition, and it would clarify that someone who assists an ineligible person in violating a firearm or ammunition ban is also criminally liable for the violation.

Limiting gun access for the mentally ill is also included.

“Currently, if a judge stays an order of civil commitment because an individual has private insurance and goes to a private facility, the stay does not preclude the prohibition against possession, which in every other case it would,” Lesch said. Further, a court must submit a mental health adjudication to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System within three business days of issuing a ruling if it affect’s a mentally ill person’s right to possess firearms. It must now be sent “as soon as practicable.”

In the Senate

The Senate gun bill, SF458, sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week on a 5-3 party-line vote and awaits action by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. It contains the background check language and the provision to give local law enforcement officials more discretion in granting ownership or carry permits.