A gun bill in the Minnesota House that would have wreaked havoc with hunters and disrupted scholastic shooting sports has been altered to alleviate fears expressed in a rare public statement from Federal Ammunition.
In a March 26 letter to Rep. John Heinrich, R-Anoka, that circulated widely last week on social media, Federal Ammunition President Jason Vanderbrink said the gun transfer legislation requiring universal criminal background checks “would effectively outlaw youth shooting sports’’ and undermine conservation funding.
Originally, the bill’s language seemed to apply to all firearms transfers, even exchanges between family members and hunting companions. Minors can’t own guns, so the use of family-owned shotguns by nearly 13,000 youth trap and skeet shooters in Minnesota would have been subject to transfer paperwork and background reviews by local police chiefs and sheriffs.
“These prohibitions would impact thousands of Minnesotans whose participation in youth shooting sports is promoting an ethos of safety, teamwork and dedication amongst the next generation of Minnesota leaders,’’ Vanderbrink wrote.
He reminded lawmakers in his letter that an 11 percent federal excise tax on guns, archery equipment and ammunition is the underpinning of wildlife management in the United States. Federal Ammunition, an employer of 1,500 people in Minnesota, has paid an average of $85 million per year in the excise taxes over the past five years — money that is distributed to states for habitat and wildlife work.
Ryan Bronson, public policy director for Anoka-based Federal Ammunition, acknowledged that the company “doesn’t normally wade into these issues directly.’’ More often it communicates its views through affiliated trade groups and industry lobbyists, he said.
But the company views itself as a leader in bringing new people into shooting sports, Bronson said. It couldn’t ignore a bill in its own backyard that would have been “one of the more restrictive gun bills in the country this year,’’ he said.
Co-authored by more than 30 House Democrats, the bill is one of two new pieces of legislation introduced to take action against gun violence. House leadership has made the issue a priority, but the Senate has not. The second control measure being debated in the House would let families and police petition courts to temporarily remove guns from people judged to pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.
Among those who testified against the transfer and background check bill was 12-year-old Ben Guswiler, a member of the Blaine Bengals Trap and Skeet program.
“All this law is doing is making it complicated for young people to learn to safely and respectively use firearms,’’ Guswiler told legislators last month at a House committee hearing. “It makes things more confusing than it needs to be … I simply want this sport to be here for me and my friends.’’
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, D-Roseville, said hunting families made it clear early on that the bill would introduce hassles for previously routine sharing of firearms between family members and friends. Since the bill has received hearings, important changes have been made, she said.
“It no longer applies to long guns,’’ said Becker-Finn, a lifelong deer hunter who grew up in northern Minnesota. “I’m not concerned about it.’’
Rep. Dave Pinto, D-St. Paul, the bill’s chief author, said the proposed requirement for transfer paperwork, background check and law enforcement approval only applies to pistols and semiautomatic military-style assault weapons. Even then, the legislation includes exclusions to cover transfers not involving gun dealers. Those transfer exclusions cover firearms exchanges between immediate family members, transfers that occur at gun ranges or at shooting competitions, transfers that involve antique guns and transfers that occur when the gun owner and transferee are together.
“There’s been significant changes since it was introduced,’’ Pinto said.