Gun violence bill stalls in House

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A controversial gun bill that would have required background checks was discarded by its sponsor Tuesday night.

HF237 … does not exist anymore,” Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) said after laying the bill over in a less than 1 minute meeting of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

The motion was made more than 75 minutes after the committee was scheduled to reconvene, and after Paymar and Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) had been meeting for a few days to try to reach agreement on language both could support.

Each has sponsored differing gun safety bills: Paymar with background checks; Hilstrom without.

“I think we both have compromised a lot,” Paymar said. “We have abandoned universal background checks that I absolutely wanted in this bill, but we were trying to move something forward on gun violence and we agreed that we would keep the language and plug the gun show loophole.” That would require any purchaser of a gun at a show to go through a background check.

That language, likely to come forth as another bill in the next day or two, is expected to be acted upon this week by either the public safety or judiciary committees, which are chaired respectively by Paymar and Hilstrom.

“I think this keeps the discussion going. I think Rep. Hilstrom is as committed and concerned about gun violence as anybody in this Legislature,” Paymar said. “I think we can get this done. It’s a big step; it’s a huge compromise on both of our parts.”

“The goal was to bring people together and see if there was something we could do in the Minnesota House of Representatives,” Hilstrom said. “Ultimately, I think you’ll have a vehicle that will come to the floor and then you’ll see votes on many provisions.”

Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) said the compromised bill will be opposed by Second Amendment backers, such as himself.

“The only way we can put an end to this is to fight it all the way,” he said.

The cornerstone of the Paymar-sponsored HF237 would have required universal background checks for individuals purchasing handguns or military-style assault weapons from a gun show vendor, in-state over the Internet or through a private party. A background check is now required when a licensed firearm dealer sells a weapon. An exclusion would be made for family transfers and for auctioneers.

A majority of Minnesotans support background checks, Paymar said.

Other provisions would have included:
• expanding the circumstances that warrant a felony conviction for straw purchases, whereby someone knowingly purchases a gun for someone else who is not eligible to purchase a firearm, while knowing or having reason to believe the transferee intends to use the weapon in commission of a crime of violence; and
• allowing local law enforcement officials to deny a permit to purchase a weapon if they believe the person wanting to obtain the firearm is a danger to themselves or others.

“Everything is gone except for the gun show language,” Paymar said.

At the morning meeting, testifiers from the state police chiefs and police and peace officer associations expressed support for the bill, while a representative of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights supporters spoke against it.

Hilstrom sponsors three bills (HF1323, HF1324 and HF1325) that would, in part, crack down on false reports of guns stolen or lost, increase penalties for a felon who illegally possesses a weapon and it would require better health commitment information be transferred from the state to the federal background check system. The identical bills, with a combined 76 co-sponsors, do not include universal background checks.

“We have a lot of other provisions that we need to talk about that were in my bill that Rep. Paymar says he is open to,” Hilstrom said. “Ultimately, the Minnesota House as a whole will be making this decision.”

The companion 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.

“This issue is not going to go away,” Paymar said at the morning meeting. “How do you explain some little kid watching television in north Minneapolis gets shot or some little kid driving with his mom in Oakdale gets killed. This is real life, it’s Minnesota; it’s all through the country.”