DFLers on a Senate committee gave a go-ahead to universal background checks for gun sales Thursday night.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a wide-ranging gun-violence bill on a 5-3 party-line vote, with DFLers supporting it and Republicans opposing it. It now goes to the Senate floor
It was the first recorded vote on a gun-violence bill of the Legislative session after weeks of discussion in the House and Senate.
The key issue -- extending background checks to private sales -- remains a political hot potato at the Capitol.
A companion bill is to be heard next week in the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, where its chances are in doubt.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sponsored the background checks bill.
"Background checks for all gun sales would be fast an easy," Latz told the committee. "It would be at most a minor inconvenience."
Under current law, sales between private individuals are not necessarily covered by either federal or state background checks -- as are purchases from a licensed dealer. The law would close what gun-control activists consider a huge "loophole" that allows guns to fall into the wrong hands.
The bill would apply to sales of pistols and semi-automatic, military-style assault rifles that are transferred from one person to another -- but not to private sales of traditional hunting rifles. It includes an exemption for sales between relatives. Under the bill, parties to a private sale would have to go through a federally-licensed firearms dealer, who would perform the background checks.
"It's the proverbial catch 22," said bill opponent David Gross of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance. "It's almost Orwellian. It's frightening."
The National Rifle Association and other opponents of the bill argued that background checks among private parties are not needed, would not affect criminal use of weapons and could lead to a registration system for all weapons in private hands. They also objected to other provisions in the bill that would give local law enforcement authorities and judges more discretion in granting permits purchase or carry weapons.
The Senate sponsor of the orignial background checks bill, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, praised the vote as a step toward keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
"Guns aren't a distant problem in another state," he said in a statement. "They are an issue right here in Minnesota."