Capitol kicks off gun law hearings

Legislators on Tuesday heard six gun control bills in the state House.

by Jessica Lee

Supporters and opponents of gun control filled the state Capitol on Tuesday for the first day of hearings on bills aimed at modifying the state’s gun laws.

On Tuesday the state House of Representatives Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee heard six proposals as part of three days of hearings on gun laws this week.

The committee will hear two more Wednesday and will review the proposals Thursday.

Legislators will likely vote on proposals later this month.

Testifiers in pro-gun-rights T-shirts and blaze orange filled one committee room in the State Office Building while more watched on in an overflow room.

Lawmakers presented bills related to firearm restrictions, background checks and mental health screenings before buying guns.

Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, is behind legislation that would expand mental health screenings for people applying for firearm permits.

“If you look at our shootings across the United States in the last year, they’ve not been committed by criminals, they’ve been committed by people who are mentally ill,” said Rogers police Chief Jeff Beahen, who testified Tuesday.

He said the state needs regulations on the local
level to protect communities.

Police departments would be able to use the information from the mental health screenings when deciding whether to grant an individual permission to purchase weapons, according to Schoen’s proposal.

Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, spoke out against the proposed changes.

“What we are doing here is we are creating a second class of citizens,” Newberger said. “A second class that says once you are mentally ill, you are always mentally ill, and therefore you should not have the right to defend yourself.”

He said the change is an attack on the Second Amendment.

Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, and chair of the committee, is sponsoring a proposal that would expand the system of background checks to people wanting to buy pistols and assault weapons.

The bill would not mandate background checks on people purchasing hunting rifles or for sales between family members.

Chis Rager, state liaison for the National Rifle Association, testified at the meeting.

“The universal background check systems would never be universal,” Rager said, “the reason being because criminals would never submit to a background check — only law-abiding individuals are impacted by these regulations.”

Rep. Sheldon Johnson, DFL-St. Paul, is behind a bill that outlines penalties for people involved in gun trafficking.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, is sponsoring two bills to equalize penalties for offenders unlawfully possessing firearms on school properties and for possessing guns on private properties that prohibit guns.

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, is sponsoring a proposal that would allow people to temporarily store firearms with law enforcement if they feel unsafe having them at home.

Winkler’s legislation also includes the creation of a registry for people to voluntarily make themselves ineligible to purchase weapons.

“A lot of these bills are works in progress, and I hope we can make them better as we move along,” Winkler said.

Some DFL legislators want to merge many proposed changes to the state’s gun laws into one bill.

The committee will hear two bills Wednesday on gun restrictions and registration.

Similar bills are expected to be discussed in the Senate later this month.