ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Rep. Alice Hausman's proposal to ban new sales of military style assault rifles in Minnesota drew hundreds of gun control opponents to the State Capitol Wednesday.
"In the United States more than 30 are shot and murdered each day. One third of them are under the age of 20," the veteranlawmaker from St. Paul told members of the House Public Safety Committee.
Hausman's bill, House File 241, would define assault rifles by characteristics, rather than by brand name and model.Semi-automatic rifles would be defined as assault weapons,in Hausman'sbill, if they have telescoping stocks, pistol grips, protruding grips for nontrigger hands, shrouds around the barrels, or slotsthat acceptdetachable magazines.
The bill, one of13 being taken up by the panel over a three-day period, would also requiring those who purchased those weapons legally prior to the ban to register them with theState. All of the bills will be set aside for possible inclusion into a larger catch-all measure later in the session.
For the second day in a row members of the NRA and the Gun Owner Civil Rights Alliance crowded into the meeting, as well as gun control advocates from Protect Minnesota. And, once again, two other viewing rooms had to be set up for the overflow crowds.
Rob Doar of Cedar, MN brought in two unloaded weapons, with the permission of Capitol Security and the committee, to punctuate his argument that the military style weapons are no more lethal than traditional hunting rifles.
"What might surprise you is that these two firearms are actually the exact same firearm. They are Ruger 10/22's," Doar said as he held the two rifles side by side.
"The only thing that is different between these two rifles is entirely cosmetic."
He said members of his group consider those semi-automatic rifles to be "modern sporting rifles" rather than military or assault weapons. Features such as the telescoping stock, he said,are designed so that the gun can be used by people of different sizes.
"My wife has a hard time extending her hand up here, especially when we're using the optics if she's doing longer range shooting," Doar explained as he held the rifle.
"This keeps her hand out of the way of the optics, and down where she can hold it comfortably."
Former FBI agent John Egelhoff told the committee he supports the ban because of how many rounds can be fired by such weapons in a short period of time, even in semi-automatic mode that requires one squeeze of the trigger for each bullet.
"The term 'modern sporting rifles' doesn't disguise, doesn't change the fact that this weapon was made for war. The A-R 15 platform, the A-K-47 platform, are made for war,"Egelhoffsaid.
"They were made to be as lethal as we could put a weapon in the hands of an America soldier, and anyone who says otherwise is ignoring that fact."
Egelhoff was the lead agent in the investigation of the 2005 mass shooting at Red Lake High School, where five children and three adults were killed. Egelhoff said the death toll would've been much higher if the shooter, Jeffery Weise, had been able to get his grandfather's AR-15 to work.
But Rep. Mark Uglem, a Champlin Republican, accused Egelhoff and other backers of Hausman's bill of confusing semi-automatic rifles with the fully automatic "machine guns" that fire multiple bursts of bullets with each squeeze of the trigger.
"Youcontinue to fan the flames and, tell the public that these things, 'assault rifles', are just like combat, and they're not!" Uglem complained.
"They're semi-automatic guns, very similar to a deer rifle with the exception of the clip."
Egelhoff said he had regularly carried and used both types of weapons during his career with the FBI and considered them equally lethal.
"In fact most police officers would tell you they'd rather go up against a fully automatic weapon, because they can't be held on target," Egelhoff said.
"They spray all over the place. It's called spray and pray."
John Footh of West St. Paulshowed the committee a picture of his son, Gunnar, who was shot and woundedwhilecelebrating the 4th of July in 2009.A neighbor, upset about fireworks the kids were using, opened fire on them.
But Footh said he didn't blame the weapon. He says he's opposed to the ban on assault rifles and another Hausman proposal to limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds.
"The person who shot my son disobeyed the law. He made the decision to break the law and no amount of law our legislators are going to pass is going to stop the criminals from doing something wrong," Footh said.
Rep. Hausman said she had received letters from opponentssaying that citizens need to match the firepower of local police and the military, so they can stage an armed revolt, if necessary, against a tyrannical government.
She said she didn't think that's what the nation's founders had in mind when they created the amendment,which cited the need for a well-armed militia.