Universal background checks for all private gun sales was removed from consideration in the House Tuesday night in a compromise that will limit new checks to private sales made during gun shows.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, chief sponsor of universal background checks, reached an agreement with Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, whose opposition threatened to scuttle the background checks bill in Paymar’s own committee.
They finished the deal in private meetings while a packed committee room waited for them to take up the issue Tuesday night. Instead, Paymar gaveled the House Public Safety committee meeting closed after less than a minute, leaving the crowd confused, and said he would return later this week with a new bill.
“We’ve reached an agreement,” Paymar said after the non-meeting. “I think we both have compromised a lot. We have abandoned the universal background checks that I absolutely wanted in this bill.” He admitted this kills his hopes of universal checks, but added, “We have an agreement that the gun-show loophole will be plugged.”
Originally, Paymar sought to extend current background checks to all private sales of handguns and semiautomatic, military-style assault weapons, whether at gun shows, over the internet or over the backyard fence. In the agreement, he will focus only on closing the “gun show loophole.”
While a stronger bill remains alive in the Senate, the decision Tuesday night essentially means the House will go no further than gun-show checks – if it goes that far. Expanded checks have become an issue of national importance. Last week, Vice President Joe Biden called Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk on Bakk’s cell phone to see how the background checks debate was faring.
The development is a victory for the National Rifle Association, which opposed universal checks and brought its lobbying might to bear to defeat it. But the chief gun-rights supporter on the committee, Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said even gun-show checks remain unacceptable.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to cut the head off the snake, and now it’s going to slither its way onto the floor of the House, where we will have to kill it there.”
Heather Martens, head of the gun-control group Protect Minnesota, was disappointed with the change but pleased the issue will remain alive. “This is not what we wanted … as the finished product, but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
Paymar’s original bill will now be scuttled. In addition to losing background checks on all private sales, Paymar gave up provisions sought by police that give local authorities some discretion in considering police calls and documented problems before issuing gun permits.
“That’s all gone – everything is gone except the gun-show language,” said Paymar.
Currently, federal and state background checks apply to all sales made through licensed dealers, but not to private sales. The original House bill – and the Senate version that remains alive – would extend checks to all private sales of handguns and semiautomatic, military style assault weapons, with sales among relatives exempted. Police groups supported the change, saying an unknown percentage of gun sales, perhaps 40 percent, go through unchecked sales.
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