Weapons hearings in St. Paul will focus on background checks, not “highly divisive” bans on assault weapons and magazines.
The Minnesota Senate will not act to ban assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition clips this year, a DFL leader said Monday.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who is chairing the Senate’s gun hearings this week, said he will focus on closing the loopholes in background checks and leave the issue of banning weapons or ammunition to Congress.
“The assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazine ban proposals are highly divisive,” said Latz, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Legions of concerned gun owners turned out for three days of hearings on gun issues last week, and Latz said such bans also do not have strong support from law enforcement.
On the other hand, he said, the idea of filling loopholes in background checks has strong public and police support, and he believes it can pass this year.
“Law enforcement does have broad consensus in favor of universal background checks, closing loopholes in existing statutes,” he said. “I want to focus on what has broad public support.”
The bans introduced in the House by Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, were opposed by the National Rifle Association, the state’s Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance and dozens of gun owners who felt the bills would violate their constitutional rights. They questioned how the weapons would be defined and what would happen to those who own them now.
Support came from Protect Minnesota, a gun-control organization, and former Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan. But the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, which represents rank-and-file police officers, threw its support behind universal background checks rather than the guns and magazine bans.
“We always suspected this was the strategy from the minute this started, ” said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, leader of the gun-owners-rights position at the Legislature. “I don’t think they thought they had the votes.”
He said he remains opposed to the background checks plan out of fear that it would lead to a gun registry that could be used for confiscation.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, chairman of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, told gun-control advocates at the Capitol Monday that he will push ahead with the background-checks measure. Paymar said “universal background checks will be the centerpiece of our bill” but banning weapons or magazines would face “much more opposition.”
Latz’s committee scheduled hearings at the Capitol for noon and 6 p.m. on Thursday and noon Friday. Bills pending before his panel include trying to prevent people with severe mental issues from obtaining weapons and changing the way felons get their rights to purchase weapons restored.
Jim Ragsdale • 651-925-5042