A victory for universal gun background checks in the Minnesota Senate this week shifts the battleground to the House, where issue has split DFL leaders.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, is sponsoring a similar universal background checks bill in the House. He has has scheduled it for a showdown vote in his committee on Tuesday.
In the meantime, he said, he is trying to work with Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, who is sponsoring a competing measure supported by the National Rifle Association. Hilstrom’s bill threatens to displace background checks with a focus on improving the current checks and going after intermediaries who transfer guns to criminals.
“I’ve met with Rep. Hilstrom,” Paymar said. “I’d like to get something that we can pass, on universal background checks.”
Hilstrom sits on Paymar’s committee and is chair of the next committee the background checks bill would go to – the House Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee.
The vote in his committee next week will be extremely close, Paymar said.
“I need her support,” Paymar said. “I need her to compromise with me, to get something that will satisfy law enforcement, that truly deals with background checks – not window dressing.”
Hilstrom confirmed that she has met with Paymar but declined to say whether there is any hope for a compromise. As it stands now, she opposes Paymar's bill and supporters her alternative.
On Thursday night, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a wide-ranging bill that includes universal background checks for all purchases of handguns and semiautomatic, military-style assault rifles – including sales between private individuals. Under the bill, private sales would have to be conducted with the assistance of a licensed dealer, who would conduct the background checks.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, also gives local law enforcement officials more discretion in granting permits to purchase or carry weapons. A wider range of mental health information and concerns raised during police calls could be used to deny permits under the bill.
It passed on a 5-3 vote, with DFLers supporting it and Republican members opposing it. Police officers and the gun-control group Protect Minnesota supported it, while the NRA and local gun-rights supporters opposed it.
Hilstrom’s bill would require the state to provide better mental health commitment information to the federal background check system, to crack down on false reports of guns stolen or lost, and to increase sentences for felons convicted of illegally possessing a gun. The bill also adds offenses to the list of crimes of violence, which carry a lifetime ban from gun ownership.
Paymar said he told Hilstrom he would include her bill within his background checks bill.
“I’m willing to compromise to get something meaningful down,” he said. “But I’m not going to pass some watered-down bill just to say we did something when we really didn’t.”