ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A gun debate will take place on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives this year.
That was guaranteed Thursday night, when the House Public Safety Committee passed a gun bill. The vote came one day before Friday's deadline for committee action on policy bills with companions in the Senate.
"I've always said we want legislators to have to take a stand on some of the tough issues regarding this issue," Rep. Michael Paymar, the St. Paul Democrat who heads the committee, told KARE.
"And everyone will have that opportunity now that this bill has moved to the House floor."
The bill would restrict private sales of pistols at gun shows to those buyers who already have permits to purchase, or permits to carry them. Private sales -- transactions between to individuals -- are currently not subject to background checks regardless of where they occur.
A background check is part of the process for obtaining those permits, from local police chiefs and sheriffs, so the bill would in theory make it tougher for someone who's not qualified to buy a pistol to get one at a gun show.
"You'd now need a background check if you're going to buy a pistol or a semi-automatic weapon, at a gun show from an unlicensed dealer," Paymar remarked.
"That's taken us further than we've ever gotten before."
The new House bill would not change the rules for those who buy guns from federally licensed dealers at those gun shows. Those dealers already conduct instant background checks on prospective buyers, and would continue doing so.
Rep. Paymar's own gun control bill, the omnibus gun bill in the House, died Tuesday because he couldn't't find enough votes for it in his own committee. That version would've required universal background checks, on all handgun and assault rifle sales, including private transactions.
Thursday night the committee passed Rep. John Lesch's firearm bill, known as House File 285. It will now become the vehicle for moving any gun control legislation through the House.
The Lesch bill was endorsed by prosecutors and is designed to crack down harder on so-called "straw buyers," those who buy guns for people who aren't qualified due to a criminal record or history of court-ordered commitments to inpatient mental health treatment.
The bill also adds to the list of the types of released violent offenders who aren't allowed to automatically have their gun rights restored after leaving prison. For example, attempted strangulation as part of a domestic assault, would join the category of "crimes of violence" in gun regulations.
The committee amended the Lesch bill to add the gun show provisions. It was not part of his original bill. And the addition of that provision led some who would've voted for the bill to oppose it.
In fact the vote on the amendment, 10 to 8, mirrored the final vote on the bill. Democrat John Ward of Baxter joined all 7 Republicans on the committee in opposing it.
Rep. Tony Cornish of Good Thunder, who has led the charge against gun control legislation, vowed that he would fight to take the new gun show language out of the bill during the floor debate.
Paymar, for his part, said he'll make an effort to give the bill more teeth on the House floor. He said he'd like to see all gun show purchases run through an instant background check on the spot, with the help of the federally licensed dealers at those shows.
The NRA and its local affiliates are opposed the latest House bill, based on the argument that criminals buy their guns on the streets instead of gun shows.
"This bill is a feeble, futile attempt for Representative Paymar, who's already lost," Andrew Rothman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Rights Alliance told KARE.
"Even his own fellow Democrats in the House don't support the rights-grabbing legislation that he's proposed, and that he's fought so hard for this session."
The main Senate version of the bill still has universal background checks, and it's already headed to the Senate floor. A second gun bill is still alive in the Senate must get through a fiscal committee before it goes to the floor.
That won't be heard until after the Easter/Passover break, so after April 2nd. And floor votes will likely be put off until the House and Senate finish work on the state budget.
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