A Minnesota Senate committee took up long-standing debates over the role of government in gun ownership and background checks on Friday.
The Judiciary Committee, in the second of two days of well-attended hearings on ways to prevent gun violence, heard a rousing debate over a plan to expand background checks to private purchases.
David Chipman, a retired ATF agent who works with a national gun-control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, testified in favor of a proposal to extend current background checks to nearly all sales of handguns and semiautomatic rifles. Currently, police say, the laws that cover licensed gun dealers are not applied to private sales, including sales made over the internet or person-to-person sales at gun shows.
"Since Newtown, over 2,000 Americans have been killed with a gun," Chipman told the committee. "Requiring background checks will prevent violent crime. Lives will be saved."
He cited the website armslist.com as a place where people seeking weapons can get them without state or federal background checks. These loopholes "render all gun laws meaningless," Chipman said.
In response, Chris Rager of the National Rifle Association said the background checks bill is a case of "chipping away at American traditions," and Joe Olson of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance raised the possibility that universal background checks could lead to a system of gun registration.
"It is the agenda of the anti-gun forces," Olson said.
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, a member of the committee, told Chipman that the federal government has pulled back on prosecuting gun crimes. Another GOP member, Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple grove, said clubs, baseball bats and hammers are "far more dangerous, and used more often, than a gun."
The committee took no action on bills in two days of hearings. The committee chairman, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said he will assemble a violence-prevention package and bring it back for further hearings and a vote. A similar process is going on in the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.
The committee heard testimony Mary Johnson, whose son was shot to death in Minneapolis in 1993.
"This is about human beings," Johnson said. "It's not about taking your guns away." She added, "Guns are readily available in our neighborhood. We need them off the streets."
Anthony Triemert of Brooklyn Park, who testified wearing his 9-millimeter Ruger handgun in a holster on his belt, said police should take action in neighborhoods where guns are so prevalent. Triemert said he has a permit to carry a loaded gun in public.
"Why aren't the police there, talking to these teachers and these children, and finding out where they're getting them from, and taking them off the streets?" he told the committee. "It's not acceptable."
The committee heard debate over bills that would crack down on people who falsely report guns as lost or stolen; would allow people in mental health crises to voluntarily give up their weapons to police; and to make it harder for ex-felons to regain their right to right to legally possess a weapon.
Anthony Triemert at Capitol