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People on both sides of the gun debate crowd a House committee room Thursday as representatives debate a bill that would require buyers at gun shows to undergo background checks. Forum News Service photo by Don Davis

Watered-down gun bill on its way to Minnesota House

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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House will debate guns.

The House public safety committee passed a watered-down gun regulation bill on a 10-8 vote Thursday night, with the House the next stop for the controversial issue.

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The bill contains several noncontroversial provisions to keep guns out of the hands of people who are not supposed to own them, but it also includes a contentious requirement that purchasers at gun shows must have background checks. The gun show provision is not acceptable to most Republicans and many rural Democrats.

A vigorous debate is expected when the full House takes up the issue, most likely in May.

Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, introduced a bill earlier this legislative session to require background checks for all handgun and semi-automatic gun buyers. He could not get enough support for the bill, but said he expects a universal background check amendment to be offered during House debate.

Paymar said that he sees some progress in the gun show legislation that his committee passed Thursday night, even though he still supports a broader bill. Measures to ban so-called assault rifles and magazines that contain large quantities of bullets made no progress in the Legislature.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said Republicans and rural Democrats could have supported the portion of the bill that tightens laws that keep guns out of felons and others who should not have them. “We do need to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”

But, he said, the gun show provision is not acceptable, and there will be attempts to remove it in the House.

“Sometimes you just have to accept we have not vetted it enough to do everything,” Kelly said, adding that the gun show provision could be considered next year.

Before the bill reaches the House, more negotiations are expected. Kelly said he hopes a compromise can be reached that leaves out gun show checks.

Freshman Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, offered the gun show provision as an amendment to the bill. Gun supporters are strongly against any background checks beyond ones now required when federally licensed dealers sell guns.

Schoen said his amendment would allow people to buy from unlicensed sellers if they had gone through a background check in the previous year, such as if they bought a gun from a dealer.

The Schoen amendment and the full bill passed with Rep. John Ward of Baxter the only Democrat joining Republicans in voting against them.

“We know we don’t have the votes here to stop it, but hopefully we will have on the House floor,” Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said.

With the House committee passage, gun legislation also should begin moving again in the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he would hold up that chamber’s gun bill until the House committee took action.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said new gun bills are not needed.

“Enforce the laws you have,” he said, adding that the bills are “an assault on the Second Amendment” that guarantees Americans the right to own guns.

He said that none of the bills considered by Minnesota lawmakers would prevent school shootings such as occurred this year in Connecticut or in Minnesota in years past.

“It is just not worth the waste of time,” Ingebrigtsen said, recalling that Republicans in the last two years “got beat up wasting time on social issues” such as voter identification and gay marriage.

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