Proposed gun ban pits safety vs. rights in Minnesota legislature

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The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to keep and bear arms, but up for debate before a House committee Wednesday was if a certain type of gun should be banned.

Sponsored by Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), HF241 would ban assault weapons and provide a way to dispose of those lawfully possessed prior to the ban. It has no Senate companion.

Also scheduled to be heard at the second day of gun hearings by the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee was HF242 that would create a new crime for manufacturing, transferring or possessing large capacity magazines for firearms. Because of so much testimony on the assault weapons bill, HF242 has been pushed back to Thursday. The committee is scheduled to meet from 10 a.m. until noon and reconvene at 6 p.m.

No votes are scheduled to be taken on any of the dozen bills to be heard during the three days, but Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul), the committee chairman, plans to put together an omnibus gun bill this month that would encompass some of the ideas shared during the hearings.

Proponents of the assault weapons ban said it is needed, in part, because there is no real use for the weapons other than in the military.

“You don’t need them for sport, you don’t need them to hunt, you also don’t need them for self- protection in your home,” said former Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan.

A federal assaults weapon ban expired in 2004.

Assault weapons are commonly referenced as semiautomatic or modern sporting rifles with large detachable magazines, pistol grips and telescoping or folding stocks. Many hunters like to use them. Others said they are useful for mass killings.

Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, urged members to remember the lives lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School and other shootings where an assault weapon was used. “You need to remember, as you consider this, who those children are and how their families lives have been impacted. … If we don’t do something now, where does that changing world stop?”

The bill is a “moral issue,” said John Egelhof, a retired FBI agent, who was the first agent on the scene at the Red Lake School shooting in 2005. “These weapons and components have not one legitimate use outside the battlefield or in the hands of a policeman.”

Chris Rager, a state liaison with the National Rifle Association of America, said the bill is “failed policy” because the previous federal ban was not successful in keeping these guns out of the hands of criminals.

He also said assault weapons are used in only a “small percentage” of firearm-related violent crimes.

“I’ve never seen a bill like this, and, I think it’s un-American,” he said. “I think there are many law-abiding Minnesotans who choose to have this type of firearm for their defense. I’ve heard some people say here, ‘Why do you need that?’ I didn’t know it was a bill of needs or wants; I thought it was a Bill of Rights. … Now we’re going to turn that right into a privilege only if the government allows us to have those firearms.”

Tim Jezierski, a gun safety instructor from Two Harbors, questioned the bill’s fairness. “To anybody who practices … we’ve done nothing with this bill but disarm honest citizens.”