Newspaper article

Contentious 'Gun Week' Ends, but More Legislative Hearings and Debate Await

Newspaper article

Contentious 'Gun Week' Ends, but More Legislative Hearings and Debate Await

Article excerpt

Legislators' Gun Week sprint is over, but the real marathon has just begun.

A House committee heard hours of powerful testimony over the past three days on gun control proposals -- ranging from requiring universal background checks to a state assault weapons ban -- that some Democrats hope to turn into a meaningful package in the coming weeks.

Key DFL legislators have been discussing gun control and violence prevention efforts since the mid-December shootings in Newtown, Conn.

"If they passed any of these bills, that would be a tremendous step forward because it's been a long time that we haven't even been allowed to talk about prevention of gun violence," said Heather Martens, head of the anti-gun group Protect Minnesota. "We've seen too many years of denial."

Lots of proposals

Urban and suburban DFLers put forward a raft of legislation for discussion in the House Public Safety Committee that would:

* Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines

* Give authority to police chiefs to issue permits

* Require universal background checks on gun purchases and close the so-called "gun-show loophole"

* Grant local police more flexibility when considering a permit to purchase or carry a firearm

* Equalize penalties for carrying a firearm in a school or a business that prohibits guns

* Keep guns out of the hands of juveniles and allow prosecutors to go after ammunition, as well as keep firearms away from people who have been privately committed

* Require a permit to own body armor.

St. Paul Rep. Michael Paymar, who heads the House Public Safety Committee, said he called the meetings to hear from Minnesotans about their thoughts on potential gun legislation.

Paymar to work on omnibus bill

Now that the exhaustive listening sessions are over -- no votes or amendments were taken -- the committee will work toward an omnibus "gun-violence prevention bill," as Paymar calls it.

"I'm tired," he said with a laugh after the final four hours of testimony wrapped up Thursday night. "It's been an exhausting three days, but it's been helpful. We had some bills that were controversial, obviously, and the committee is going to have to take a good hard look at all of the bills and decide what they want to come up with."

The proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were the most contentious pieces of legislation.

Paymar, who said he personally supports the bans, repeatedly declined to speculate about the final firearms proposal, which could receive a vote early next month.

Martens said it's likely that Paymar's universal background check bill will "be a focus for the committee" because the concept enjoys widespread public support. "I would expect to see that."

Some of that uncertainty involves House lawmakers waiting to see how the Senate will proceed.

Senate hearings later this month

The Senate Judiciary Committee will have its own, compressed Gun Week at the end of the month. …

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