ST. PAUL, Minn. - A Senate panel has passed a bill that would impose universal background checks on all gun sales. It's the first legislative hurdle towards more restrictive gun laws, but that measure has many obstacles to tackle before becoming Minnesota low.
Majority Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday night endorsed the legislation on a 5-3 party-line vote.
Sen. Ron Latz, a St. Louis Park Democrat, says his bill is a compromise with competing legislation. The legislation would boost information in state's background checks, strengthen penalties for those who sell to people who don't meet the standards, and give county attorneys more tools to track down illegal gun owners. It contains many of the provisions in an alternate gun bill backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
"If we really are serious about reducing gun violence in our state, this is the course, Latz's course, of universal backgrounds, backgrounds required on all transactions of handguns is the way to do that," said Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, who said the bill, Senate File 458, is what Minnesotans want.
A separate NRA-backed bill would not broadly expand background checks. Many in the crowd Thursday night came to support the alternative bill drafted by Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen. Ortman proposes beefing up background checks to better filter red flags when it comes to criminals and mentally ill people.
"This Latz bill will do nothing to prevent crime, nothing t.o prevent violence. What it will do is impose additional penalities, restrictions and infringements on the law abiding who aren't the problem anyway," said Andrew Rothman, vice president for the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance.
Ortman had harsh words for Latz after he spelled out his own measure before the panel.
"I believe this effort is hostile to law abiding gun owners in the state of Minnesota. It's also important to their personal property rights but more importantly yet, it's hostile to the principles of the 2nd amendment which creates a right, not a privilege," said Ortman.
Latz fired back, saying the Second Amendment does not guarantee everyone the right to have 'unfettered access' to firearms.
"As an act of professional courtesy I agreed to put on this agenda a bill that was just introduced this week by Senator Ortman, an extraordinary accommodation. Most bills introduced at this point in the session when the policy deadline is Friday, don't have a snowball's chance in 'you know where' of getting on a committee's agenda," said Latz.
NRA spokesperson Chris Rager testified that 'no study shows background checks reduce violent crime', adding that more background checks could cause delays and complications in the system that could lead to increase in violent crime. A key hangup with the NRA also includes background checks for private sales. Rager said the sale of a rifle between hunting buddies is just one example of an infringement caused by the widespread background checks.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote, but the fate of the measure in the House is still uncertain. The first pending vote is slated for the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.
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