The issue of universal background checks for private sales of handguns and certain semiautomatic weapons is not dead despite an agreement to limit the checks, the sponsor of the bill said Wednesday.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, said he hopes to push for a floor vote on universal background checks -- even though he could not get the concept out of his committee.
"I'm not giving up on this," Paymar said. Once a bill comes to the floor, he said, "I am guaranteed that someone will offer an amendment that will offer each member, Democrat and Republican, the chance to vote on this issue. I want people to take a stand on this issue, up or down."
Only a few hours earlier, Paymar reached an agreement with a fellow committee member, Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, that gutted his universal background checks bill. In exchange, Hilstrom agreed to a bill that would extend background checks to private sales made at gun shows -- but not to other private sales, such as those made over the internet or among neighbors or friends.
Paymar said at that time that the agreement kills universal background checks for all private sales, but that closing the "gun show loophole" was a major step forward.
On Wednesday he said, "The agreement we had with the Speaker is that Rep. Hilstrom would agree to the gun show loophole language, and that the Speaker would allow a vote on the House floor." But once that more limited bill reaches the floor, Paymar said, an amendment will likely be offered to re-insert universal background checks.
"I refuse to let the Legislature take a walk on this thing," Paymar said. "I refuse to let the leadership not be accountable for a bill not coming to the floor." He added, "I can't believe we'd walk away from the Legislative session and not have a vote on it, up or down."
Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, a member of Paymar's committee and a leading advocate for gun-owners rights, accused Paymar of "trickery and deceit." He said Paymar assured members Tuesday night that universal checks were dead.
"And now he's overtly admitting, that was just for committee," Cornish said. "I think he's going to lose a lot of DFL support."
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said Wednesday he was pleased with the Hilstrom-Paymar agreement. He said he had his doubts that full universal background checks could pass the House floor.
At issue in the debate are the sales of guns between private individuals. Currently, gun checks apply to sales by licensed dealers -- even when dealers are at gun shows -- but do not apply to private sales. Paymar's original bill would have required background checks for all private sales of pistols and semiautomatic, military style assault weapons, except for sales among relatives. All private sales of traditional hunting rifles would be exempt.
The agreement with Rep. Hilstrom on Tuesday limits the checks to private sales made at gun shows.