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Committees unlikely to take up Minnesota gun bills

Minnesota state Sen. Matt LIttle of Lakeville talks about a bill Monday, March 12, 2018, he sponsors that would extend background checks to all firearms sales in the state. With him are Sens. Paul Anderson of Plymouth and Scott Jensen of Chaska. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Minnesota state Sen. Susan Kent of Woodbury talks about a bill Monday, March 12, 2018, she co-sponsors that would extend background checks to all firearms sales in the state. With her are Sens. Paul Anderson of Plymouth and Scott Jensen of Chaska. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL — The most bipartisan Minnesota gun safety bills offered so far this year were all but shot down as soon as they were introduced.

Two Democrats and two Republicans on Monday, March 12, told reporters about a pair of bills — one requiring background checks on almost all gun buyers and a second making it mandatory to report lost or stolen firearms — they hope get through in a Legislature with a strong divide between the two political parties.

Leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate made it clear the two bills are very unlikely to be considered.

"There is no time to waste on ideas that don't work, or have no chance of passing the Legislature this year," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in an uncharacteristically strong statement.

Both bills come from Sen. Matt Little, D-Lakeville, and were presented by suburban legislators.

"The Parkland tragedy has changed our country," Little said of the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead. "It has galvanized student leadership across the country and in Minnesota. ... What we have failed to do for 30 years, students now are doing."

One bill requires background checks for gun buyers other than a few exceptions, such as sales between immediate family members and between law enforcement officers. While gun dealers must get background checks on buyers now, many buyers can avoid them if they are not buying from dealers.

A federally licensed firearms dealer would need to be present at sales under the measure. Little said there are 1,440 licensed dealers in the state and 99 percent of Minnesotans live within 10 miles of one.

The second bill makes it mandatory to report a lost or stolen firearm. Little said some people obtain guns to sell to people who now are banned from buying them, but claim their guns were lost or stolen, thus avoiding background checks because the sales go unreported.

Monday's bill introductions come days after the Capitol filled with students who left their St. Paul-area classrooms to demand action against guns. They also follow new laws against gun violence enacted in Florida and being debated across the country, including in the federal government.

A House committee is indefinitely holding up a couple of Democratic-sponsored gun violence bills.

"I want to focus on solutions that work ... and not wide-ranging agendas," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairman of the committee where gun bills would start.

"There may be a hint of bipartisanship, but there also is a hint of bipartisanship of opposition..." the chairman added. "I want to focus on things that help our kids."

Gazelka said the Senate will focus on "safe and secure schools" and work on issues such as improving mental health care.

While most gun bills are not advancing, quite a few safe school bills are moving forward in the Legislature, such as allowing districts to spend more money on security, improving mental health services and establishing teams to assess threats.

"I think what we are doing this morning is a first step," Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, said i supporting the Little bills.

Jensen, a physician, said background checks are required in many instances, and should be before someone buys a gun. "I do this before I hire someone who is going to draw blood in my office."

Jensen said that being a doctor may influence his thoughts on the issue.

"I deal with this all the time," he said, recalling cases such as the 15-year-old who shot himself, not realizing the gun was loaded. He also told of another 15-year-old who "laid in wait" and shot his mother.

"It affords me a different perspective," Jensen said.

Sen. Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said today's high school seniors were babies during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and grew up in a different world than their parents and those making decisions should listen to them.

"Often in life, it is the simplest ideas that are most effective," Kent said.

Little admitted that his bills may be a hard sell for rural lawmakers. "We are going to continue to have conversations with everybody."

However, Sen. Paul Anderson, R-Plymouth, said, "doing nothing is not an option."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.