Assault weapons are "weapons of war" no private citizens should own and should be banned, former Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan told a Legislative committee on Wednesday.
"They should not be legally in the hands of any citizen," said Dolan, testifying before a House committee in favor of a bill that would ban the popular rifles known as assault weapons.
He was countered by the NRA, gun-owners and gun-rights activists, who said the powerful weapons, plus high-capacity ammunition clips, are needed for self defense and for shooting competitions.
Chris Rager of the NRA told the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee that "semiautomatic firearms," including the popular AR-15, are used for shooting sports, hunting and self defense. He said those who term the weapons "assault weapons" are "gun grabbers."
The committee has now heard seven hours of testimony over two days, and plans to resume at 10 a.m. Thursday in Room 10 of the State Office Building. A second hearing Thursday will be held at 6 p.m.
The committee is only hearing comments on bills this week, not taking votes. So far it has hard bills to require universal background checks, to allow mental health inquiries when people seek permits and Wednesday's bill to ban manufacturing and possession of assault weapons.
The bill would allow those who own the weapons to keep them, but would force them to register. The term "assault weapon" is defined not by the make and model but by characteristics such as the pistol grip, telescoping stock, and a non-burning shroud surrounding the barrel. Certain semi-automatic pistols that have some of these features would be included in the ban.
The committee, again overflowing with activists on both sides -- with the gun-owners-rights side in the great majority -- heard from John Egelhof, an NRA member, former FBI agent, concealed weapons permit holder and the first FBI agent on the scene of the 2005 Red Lake High School massacre.
"The only real use for these tools ... is to kill our fellow citizens," Egelhof told the committee. He said the bill is needed to protect the public and police officers from further mayhem.
The NRA and opponents of the bill said they need the weapons for self-defense and suggested that they may be constitutionally protected -- an issue that would have to be decided in court. Joe Olson of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance said the bill creates "deferred confiscation" of assault weapons by taking a person's weapon after he or she dies.
An opponent of the bill, Rob Doar of Cedar, appearing at the Capitol with a gun strapped to his belt, held up two rifles to show the difficulty of telling an "assault weapon" from a regular deer rifle, when they may be functionally the same weapon.
Asked why he carried a gun into the Capitol, he said, "I carry a handgun most places I go. The Capitol isn't any different."
The sponsor of the assault weapoons bill, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, made a brief presentation and then left to attend another engagement while her bill was being debated.
Rob Doar, left, and partner show two versions of same gun to House committee Wednesday.