Minnesota gun safety proponents working to pass tighter gun safety laws may be — excuse the metaphor — down to their last shot.
Hopes for significant reform were high as the 2013 Legislature opened, just weeks after the school massacre in Newtown, CT had galvanized the nation and fueled a wave of gun control efforts. Legislation introduced in Minnesota included proposals to ban military assault-style rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and to require “universal” background checks to ensure that all gun purchasers in the state undergo a check to prevent criminals, the mentally ill or any other barred class from obtaining guns. But even as President Obama visited the state in early February to rally support for stiffer federal and local gun limits, the pro-safety argument was losing traction at the Capitol St. Paul.
Literally out-gunned by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups who packed Capitol corridors and hearing rooms with gun-carrying opponents of new laws, and undermined by a lack of open support from DFL leaders in the Legislature and the Governor’s office, chances of large-scale reform quickly faded.
Restrictions on the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines fell by the wayside, leaving gun safety advocates hoping for some kind of expansion of background checks, including a measure closing the so-called “gun-show loophole” and requiring that private gun transactions include background checks. A measure doing just that was approved, on a strict party-line vote dividing DFLers from Republicans, by a Senate committee last week.
But that vote may have marked the high-water point for the gun safety campaign in Minnesota. A similar measure failed to win approval in the House Public Safety Committee Tuesday night. In fact, it didn’t even get voted upon: In a bizarre development after an hour-long break that left hearing attendees waiting in their seats, wondering what was going on, Committee Chair Michael Paymar reappeared to announce tersely that the bill had been “laid over” (watch video of the announcement above)
In other words, the measure was tabled, leaving gun safety hopes dead for this session.
Or maybe they are just on life-support.
Paymar said Wednesday that he still wants to bring some kind of gun measure to the House floor, and scheduled another committee meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday (March 21) to take a final shot at getting a gun measure — any gun measure — out of his committee. The plan, sources say, is to add an amendment to House File 285 requiring all gun transfers at gun shows to be made through a federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL). If it passes out of committee and can be brought to the House floor, the thinking is that all House members will have to vote on the record in favor, or against, fixing one of the most notorious gun safety problems. There also would be a glimmer of hope that there would be a chance, in a joint House-Senate conference committee, to bring a stronger bill back to the House for passage — if the Senate passes a stronger bill. (Update: The bill as described above passed the House Public Safety Committee on a mostly party line vote Thursday night)
“There are a lot of members of the Legislature that would like to see a vote on universal background checks,” Paymar told the Pioneer Press. “In some way, shape or form, it will happen.”
That, of course, remains to be seen. So far, at least, there has been little reason to believe that any gun measure can survive Paymar’s committee in the face of strong opposition from the gun lobby.
Which is why tonight could be the Last Showdown on gun safety for 2013.
Above: Video of the Thursday night hearing where the weakened gun bill legislation was approved.
Below: Tuesday’s gun safety hearing held before the legislation was laid over.