ST. PAUL, Minn. - A modest gun control plan that has the blessing of top lawmakers and support from most Minnesota House members still could get hung up by powerful Democrats and vocal advocates who want tighter restrictions.
The plan unveiled Wednesday would tighten the state's current background check system but wouldn't require those checks for all gun purchases. That is a priority of the House Democrat who can control the bill's fate and a policy that 70 percent of Minnesotans said they support in a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll last month.
"This is just putting a Band-Aid on a huge problem," Jane Kay from Moms Demand Action said of the new bill.
House Public Safety Committee Chairman Michael Paymar, who introduced his own gun bill with universal background checks earlier this week, said he won't give the new bill a hearing. Lawmakers can try to substitute his bill with the new one, but the authors may need to employ a parliamentary trick to bring it straight to the House floor for a full vote.
Rep. Debra Hilstrom, a Brooklyn Center Democrat, said it's a matter of building a bill that will help reduce gun violence and can pass. Her bill has 73 co-sponsors, including 17 Democrats, in the House — more than enough to pass the 134-member chamber. It also has the backing of gun rights advocates. A Senate bill is still in the works.
"One man can't stop a whole show," said Rep. Tony Cornish, one of the bill's co-authors
Hilstrom's bill aims to improve Minnesota's background checks by sending mental health commitment information to the national database of people who can't legally own a gun and by requiring the state to send all information to that database faster. It would also add to the parameters of what would disqualify someone from legally owning a gun, help county attorneys crack down on illegal gun owners and increase penalties for so-called "straw purchases" in which an eligible person buys a weapon for someone who legally cannot.
"It's a real problem-solving bill that deals with the issues of current background checks right now, as well as dealing with criminals, while respecting the Second Amendment right," Hilstrom said.
The issue has divided Democrats along geographical lines, with rural members opposing stricter gun laws that include expanded background checks. The Associated Press reported Friday that the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates were building support for an alternate plan to Paymar's bill.
"I'm disappointed that Rep. Hilstrom ... would do the NRA's bidding and introduce a bill that doesn't have background checks in it," he said.
Freshman Rep. Dan Schoen said he would have liked stronger background check provisions, but the bottom line is that Hilstrom's legislation is "a bill that's going to pass." Schoen, of suburban St. Paul, is one of several Democrats who signed onto her bill.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton reiterated Wednesday that he prefers expanding background checks to gun shows and other transactions involving non-licensed dealers. But he said the lack of such an expansion won't necessarily cost the bill his support.
"I typically don't veto bills for what's not in them."
Paymar said he won't give up on his bill. He and other advocates for tighter controls said expanding background check may be politically difficult, but it's necessary.
"Hilstrom's bill, in my view, is designed to give cover to suburban Republicans and rural Democrats so they can say they did something about gun violence," Paymar said. "They won't have."