ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A group of DFL state lawmakers Thursday rolled out legislation that would raise the minimum age to own a semiautomatic assault style rifle in Minnesota, from 18 to 21.
The chief authors, Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park and Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn of Roseville, assert the idea should attract wide support at the Capitol, but concede the bills may not receive hearings in the Republican-controlled Minnesota Legislature.
"The record isn’t good, but I think we have a real good chance this year," Sen. Latz told reporters.
He said he asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Warren Limmer, a Maple Grove Republican, if the age limit measure and other gun-related bills will get hearings, and that Limmer told him it's a decision that will be made by Senate leadership.
The guns have become a lightning rod for supporters of stricter gun laws because they've been used in many mass shootings, including the Valentin's Day attack on a high school in Parkland, Florida.
The semiautomatic rifles, such as the ArmaLite AR-15, can accept larger ammunition magazines, which gives them the outward appearance of fully automatic machine guns used by the military.
"These are weapons of war, and we don't allow our young people to carry weapons of war unless they're in the military, as a general matter," Sen. Latz remarked.
"We don't let people drink until they turn 21."
Rep. Becker-Finn said she's been a hunter for most of her life, and got her first Winchester ,243 rifle at the age of 12, after completing a firearms safety class.
"We're not talking about that rifle here," Becker-Finn said. "Today we are talking about weapons explicitly designed to kill people, and to kill people as quickly as possible."
Dr. Tom Kottke, a heart surgeon and leader of the Twin Cities Medical Society, said his group supports raising the age limit.
"Judgment and impulse control is not fully present until the age of 25. The frontal lobes are not hooked up the rest of the brain."
The members of the Minnesota Medical Association Thursday voiced support for a ban on semiautomatic assault rifles, universal background checks, and improved data collection and analysis of firearms injuries.
Opponents say semiautomatic rifles have been unfairly stigmatized because some mass shooters have illegally modified them into rapid-fire weapons.
"When you ask most people what an assault weapon is, they'll assume it's a fully automatic machine gun," Rob Doar of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus said. "The fact is, just like most hunting firearms, it's one round per trigger pull."
Doar said the A-R 15 is extremely popular platform with deer hunters in Minnesota, because of its flexibility and design. His group opposes the age restriction bills.
"We have 18-year-olds who are joining the military, we have people under 21 who are serving in law enforcement. To say under 21 means they can’t own a firearm isn’t consistent with other aspects of our society."
Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, Executive Director of Protect Minnesota, urged citizens to pressure Republican leadership to grant committee hearings for the bills, so that lawmakers can go on record on the issue.
"We know that 67 percent of Americans support a federal ban of these weapons," Bence said.
"If 20-year-olds are too young to drink a beer, they are too young to possess military-style assault weapons."
If the bill became law, it would be a felony to knowingly sell or give an assault rifle to someone under 21. The legislation includes exceptions for active duty military, people taking part in military training exercises, or those honorably discharged from the military before age 21.
People under 21 would still be allowed to use the rifles legally, if under the supervision of an adult family member.