ST. PAUL — A Minnesota Senate committee is set to take up a pair of gun control proposals in 2020, after months of requests from Democrats and advocates.
But the hearing will be held on Republicans' terms: no votes will be cast and the meeting will be held in gun-friendly Hibbing.
The chair of the Senate Public Safety and Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Dec. 19, announced that he would take the panel on the road next month to talk about the plans to require background checks at the time of transfer of a firearm and to allow law enforcement to remove a person’s firearms if they are believed to pose a danger to themselves or others.
Sen. Warren Limmer, who chairs the committee, said the move to hold a hearing outside the Capitol is aimed at bringing in more voices from greater Minnesota. Democrats, meanwhile, said it was a "tactical move" to prevent some of the testimony supporting the changes.
”I think up until now, in the last two years, this gun debate has been one that’s been initiated more by metropolitan interests,” Limmer, a Maple Grove Republican, said. “I think it’s important to get opinion and the participation of our outstate citizens as well. Whatever we pass here is going to affect them and they have a right to know some of the bills that we are considering.”
The announcement that the Republican-led Senate would take up the proposals broke a years' long stalemate between GOP lawmakers and Democrats who hold the House of Representatives and governor's office. But it didn't give the bill's author a great sense of hope that the bills would have a clear path forward in the divided Legislature.
“Is it progress? Yeah, a little bit," Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said. “I’m encouraged, but I wonder, I worry how much of this is window dressing."
Members of the panel Thursday got a thorough presentation on Minnesota's existing firearm laws as well as other laws around violence prevention. Democrats on the panel sought to highlight holes in existing laws, while Republicans pointed to concerns about lax enforcement that allows those unauthorized to possess firearms to obtain and use them.
"We need that support for law enforcement, the laws that are currently on the books, how are we enforcing those? We really need to take a look at that," Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said. “It’s a cycle that is problematic to me and should be problematic to the folks out here."
Gun control advocates and gun rights supporters packed the hearing room, wearing T-shirts representing their respective groups. Outside the hearing room, gun control advocates said senators were acting too slowly on an issue that is critical to the state.
"Limiting the scope of the hearing to the review of current laws is like checking the batteries in the smoke alarms when your house is on fire. It's a very good thing to do on a regular basis but not the thing that will save the most lives now, during a crisis," Nancy Nord Bence, with Protect Minnesota, said. "We have a crisis of gun violence going on in Minnesota right now."
Limmer toward the end of the hearing reminded members and those in attendance that they should moderate their expectations on contentious bills given the divided Legislature in which they're set to be considered.
Lawmakers are set to return to St. Paul for the 2020 legislative session Feb. 11.